This article was first published in the May 2016 issue of WIRED magazine. Be the first to read WIRED's articles in print before they're posted online, and get your hands on loads of additional content by subscribing online.
Fire sprinklers can soak a building, causing incidental damage. London-based startup Plumis has come up with a solution: when its Automist Smartscan heat sensor detects a blaze, a jet releases a burst of targeted high-pressure mist, using 90 per cent less water than traditional sprinklers. "Mist is just as effective to control fire," says Plumis founder Yusuf Muhammad.
Ceiling-mounted sensors in the £2,000 Smartscan, which launched in January and has picked up a Red Dot Design Award, detect when the temperature in a room reaches 57°C – a clear indicator that a fire is starting – and trigger a scanning infrared pyrometer.
A mobile infrared sensor, located in a 50mm deep wall-box, scans the room to locate its hottest point, then a pump in a slit in the unit releases the mist. This vertical blade of water can cover 32 square metres at a rate of 5.6 litres per minute. Mist droplets can also put out pan fires and reach a room's tricky-to-find nooks. The system's ability to reduce heat during a fire – water mist reduces the oxygen concentration in a fire zone – allows people in danger to navigate burning rooms more safely.
Automist Smartscan builds on seven years of R&D. It began as Muhammad's group project at the Royal College of Art; his company's first version of the spray, a tap-mounted device, won the 2009 James Dyson Award. Previous Automist devices have been installed in more than 3,000 UK homes.
As well as saving your life and possessions, the Smartscan has another benefit: Muhammad says it will keep your insurer happy. "As you won't suffer as much consequential water damage after a fire, it's even exciting insurance companies."