GE Unimpossible Missions Series: Fighting Fire with Fire

May 27, 2017 by Donald Krambeck

A multi-part series on GE's Unimpossible Missions, which challenge engineers and scientists with tasks where they demonstrate what can be accomplished when experts collaborate.

A multi-part series on GE's Unimpossible Missions, which challenge engineers and scientists with tasks where they demonstrate what can be accomplished when experts collaborate.

You Can't Fight Fire with Fire. Or Can You?

In "Fighting Fire with Fire" a 360° camera is used to give the audience a more immersive viewing for their experiment. GE created the Unimpossible Mission series to show the possibilities of technology. In this experiment, engineer Michael Marinelli shows us that you can, in fact, fight fire with fire. 

Marinelli utilized fire sounds from dousing a grill with charcoal lighter fluid, a fire breather, and a pyrotechnic creating a burst of flames. Once these sounds were recorded, they were mixed together at a specific frequency and intensity. This mixed sound was then sent through 17 modified speakers that were directed around a stuntman. The stuntman's protective gear was then lit on fire with a propane torch and then they played the sound through the speakers. In about 15 seconds, the soundwaves were able to completely extinguish the flames on the stuntman. So, besides the obvious answer of the sound wave's velocity being enough to put the flames out, how was this able to be demonstrated?


Applications of Amplifying Sound Waves

GE mentioned in the above video that they are using sound in many different innovations. One includes a new, more precise mammogram machine that uses 3D ultrasound technology instead of X-rays. GE Healthcare's Invenia ABUS (Automated Breast Ultrasound System) imaging architecture, which was previously hardware-based, has now shifted to software-based processing, resulting in higher performance. 

Along with their imaging architecture, GE uses an intelligent imaging algorithm that helps automate the imaging process to help provide remarkable image quality. Besides increased detection, the Invenia ABUS is designed for reproducibility, ease of use, and patient and operator comfort. Invenia ABUS screening is needed because approximately 40% of American women have dense breasts, which can increase the risk of developing cancer by 1-6 times. Invenia ABUS has been successful by finding 55% more invasive cancers after a normal or benign mammographic finding. 


The Invenia ABUS is used in conjunction with traditional mammograms to detect breast cancer. Image courtesy of GE.


Seth Robertson and Viet Tran demonstrate the principle of using sound waves to put out fires in their senior design project at George Mason University. Both electrical and computer engineering students, they explored how altering sound frequencies could affect small fires. They found that ultra-high frequencies (UHF), between 300 MHz and 3 GHz, were of little use. However, they did find that super-low frequencies (SLF), which are between 30 Hz and 300 Hz, worked much better; specifically, frequencies between 30 and 60 Hz produced the desired extinguishing effects.

They have recently acquired a preliminary patent application for the design and are moving onto further testing and refinements of their extinguisher. Initially planning on ousting small fires in a home setting, they have now realized that there are greater applications for their device. Robertson and Tran envision their extinguisher being able to attach to a drone to help put out larger forest fires. This wouldn't only help the environment—it would also help improve safety for firefighters that risk their lives in these types of situations.