HERO Sensor

H.E.R.O. (Hazardous Environment RecOnnaissance) Sensor

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The H.E.R.O. Sensor is an amalgamation of sensors mounted on a pan/tilt unit. Armed with a FLIR camera, an IR Temperature Sensor, an air-quality sensor and a distance measurement sensor mounted on a pan/tilt mechanism, this autonomous sensor package will scan an area for recognizable heat signatures in an environment unfriendly to rescuers. It will also monitor the area for air quality so rescuers know how to prepare should they need to enter the area. Through communication with the platform (robot, drone, etc.) to which it is mounted, it will provide the 3-D location of the identified object so it can be navigated to quickly and efficiently.


The majority of America's firefighters are volunteers.  And volunteers are becoming increasingly difficult to find and keep.  Many departments are understaffed so larger scenes are difficult to manage with the few resources available.  This isn't only true for fire scenes, but search and rescue and incidents where there is more area to cover than personnel to assign to the task.  Robots are a great tool to help offload some tasks onto but they just aren't seen a lot in emergency situations.  If a robot could quench a fire while firefighters do the more important search and rescue, or if a robot could assist in search and rescue in situations where firefighters cannot enter (unstable floor, etc.) or when more eyes are simply needed, it would help tremendously.  The same is true with finding a lost person in the wilderness or if officers are entering a volatile and dangerous environment.

Unfortunately the few robots that are being used need a person to control them - not really freeing up resources.  Part of this is due to the lack of appropriate sensor packages.  A robot could help extinguish a fire if it could see where to put the water.  It could also find a person in any environment by recognizing the respective heat signature.

Enter the H.E.R.O. sensor.


As a 15-year volunteer firefighter and 22-year volunteer EMT (and 25-years in various industries as an Electrical Engineer doing everything from Research and Development through production support) I am always on the search for cool things to help protect emergency responders.  I've always had a thing for robotics (with my first being a Heathkit Hero 2000 - which I still have - before graduating from high school) so I thought why not bring a taste of the future to firefighting and other emergency-response situations?

The Product:

With 'any' scenario in mind, I wanted to create a sensor array that could be mounted on a variety of platforms (rovers to drones) but function independently from that platform.  Of course power and locomotion would come from the platform, but everything else would be packaged in the sensor array, including the ability to "scan" via a pan/tilt mechanism.

The sensor array would need to identify programmed heat signatures (fires, people, pets, etc.) but also pinpoint that heat signature in 3D space so it could direct the platform and communicate back to command.

Finally, the sensor array should monitor the environment for dangerous conditions.

I settled on the following:

  • FLIR Camera - the work-horse for heat signature recognition.
  • IR Temperature - determine a temperature from a distance.
  • Air Quality Sensor - TVOCs, CO2, temperature, humidity and pressure.
  • VL53L1X Distance Sensor - measure distance from an object.
  • Servos for a Pan/Tilt mechanism for scanning without requiring platform motion.

I considered more, such as CO and O2 levels, but I though this was a great start knowing the array could expand once the concept was proven.

The processor to drive all this is an CORTEX-M7 to provide the I/O and power needed to do all this.

The Test Platform:

A Lynxmotion A4WD2 Rover base will serve as the test platform.  For simplicity (and to save expense) I'm using an Atmel SAMV71 Xplained Ultra kit (which I had lying around - yay!) as both the sensor array brains and Rover controller.

The Original Plan:

So, at the start I had visions of creating custom hardware and getting it all in and assembled before the contest ended.  These are pretty tiny components so prototyping would have been a challenge, as well as expensive, not to mention probably not within the time allotted for this contest.

The Modified Plan:

SparkFun (can I say that here?) had all the sensors I wanted in tiny module forms so I could solder them onto a breadboard, mount the breadboard to a pan/tilt module and route wires to the sensor array...

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Sensor Rear.jpg

The rear of the HERO - environmental sensors.

JPEG Image - 108.13 kB - 05/15/2018 at 17:43


Sensor Front.jpg

HERO's front - FLIR, Distance and IR Temperature.

JPEG Image - 120.21 kB - 05/15/2018 at 17:43


HERO Pin Out.jpg

Hardware Pin-out of the HERO Sensor Array.

JPEG Image - 298.55 kB - 05/03/2018 at 14:15


  • 1 × FLiR Dev Kit From Sparkfun, the FLiR Dev Kit includes a Lepton® longwave infrared (LWIR) imager.
  • 1 × MLX90614 Infrared Thermometer The MLX90614ESF-BAA from Melesis is an infrared thermometer designed for non-contact temperature sensing.
  • 1 × VL53L1X Distance Measurement Sensor The VL53L1X from ST is a Time of Flight sensor that can measure distance up to 4 m.
  • 1 × CCS811/BME280 Environmental Combo The SparkFun CCS811/BME280 Environmental Combo measures barometric pressure, humidity, temperature, TVOCs and equivalent CO2 (or eCO2) levels.

  • Scan Looking Good!

    Will Lynt III06/11/2018 at 13:57 0 comments

    I realize the contest is over, but I'm continuing to work on HERO.  I have scanning pretty well complete, which means I can scan an area in any defined pattern while taking sensor readings.  At the moment I'm only taking temperature readings, but I'll add in distance and FLIR readings soon.

  • Application Code Well Underway

    Will Lynt III06/01/2018 at 13:08 0 comments

    Using Atmel's START and Framework, the drivers are pretty much complete.  Some tweaking may be needed, but for now I can get all the inputs to see something and all the outputs to wiggle.

    The application code, though going much more slowly than I had hoped, is coming along.  I have code to scan an area with the Pan/Tilt and read from a couple of the sensors in the HERO Array.  I hope the have the remaining sensors in the array completed in the coming days.  Code will be updated in GitHub here:

    The last leg to complete is the communications interface between the sensor array and the robotics platform.  Realistically, I doubt this will be done in time for the conclusion of this segment of the contest, but I'm having a lot of fun with the project (and I can't bear to have an uncompleted project on my desk) so I'll definitely see this through to completion.  Stay tuned for more updates!

  • Sensor Hardware Complete!

    Will Lynt III05/15/2018 at 17:43 0 comments

    I've completed and mounted the actual Sensor (the center and purpose of this entire project).  Two new pics in the gallery show it - one of the front and one of the rear.  Note that I also placed the remote control in these pics since I realized I omitted pics of that (not that it is at all integral to the project).

    On the front side of the HERO, you'll find the FLIR, the VL53L1X distance sensor and the IR temperature sensor.  These three devices sense "downrange" so of course they had to be front-facing.

    The rear of the HERO holds the environmental sensors.  These monitor conditions in the the immediate area so they can really be mounted anywhere.

    The package is mounted to a Pan & Tilt so we can search independently of the robot to which we're mounted.  The idea being HERO can look around, pinpoint a target and provide coordinates in 3D space to the robot (azimuth in degrees, altitude in degrees and distance in mm).  Then the robot can use it's own obstacle-avoidance sensors to navigate in the direction of the target.

  • Platform Complete!

    Will Lynt III05/09/2018 at 21:39 0 comments

    Platform construction and wiring is complete.  This includes all power supply concerns, the sensor array pan/tilt mechanism, locomotion and obstruction avoidance (step, front and rear distance sensors).

    I also assembled and completed the code for an RF remote.  This uses an Arduino Uno R3, a joystick shield and the SPI-based RF24 wireless transceiver board.

    I have yet to assemble the sensor array itself (the star of the show) so I feel a little behind, but I'll have that done in another day or so.  (Free time is certainly at a premium these days.)

    I've added some photos of the platform and remote - enjoy!

  • Hardware Design Complete

    Will Lynt III05/03/2018 at 14:13 0 comments

    Despite the fact that the SAMv71 on the Xplained Ultra has tons of I/O, it was a challenge finding the kinds of I/O needed for this project that were accessible via connectors on the board.

    I was originally going to plop an Arduino-compatible motor controller in the appropriate connector space on the Ultra, but turns out that the Arduino pin-out wasn't followed 100% so some functionality wasn't available where I needed it.  But I was able to find mostly what was needed on the two EXT connectors, with just a few pins being pulled from the Arduino's Analog Low connector.

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Will Lynt III wrote 05/15/2018 at 17:51 point

I have fielded some comments concerning "real-world" practicality relative to the extreme temperatures found in fires.  Of course this is just a proof-of-concept at the moment.  It will be tested within the temperature range of the components first.  Then, if the product survives scrutiny, attention will be turned to environmental protection so it remains useful in near any condition.

Additionally, HERO isn't only for fires, but for other search and rescue and even SWAT assistance.

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