Close-up video and photographs of the electrical service panel and smoke detectors located in the basement were also obtained by the robot. Images showed the electrical box on the first floor as mostly intact with no surrounding burn patterns to suggest it was the origin of the fire. Investigation of the basement showed burn patterns around a work area where interviews with employees confirmed that they had been working prior to the fire and had disposed of items in the trashcan located where the images suggested the fire originated.
Local authorities closed the case citing several possible accidental causes – with the items in the trashcan being one. Donan was pragmatic in their assessment. “When a loss is covered, the insurance company pays the claim. If there is subrogation potential, they pursue it. That’s what it means to be a responsible insurer,” explained Ray Baker, Donan’s regional fire manager. “By working with Donan to use the robot, they got conclusive answers in a safe manner, saved significant time and expense, and provided better service to their insured.”
Donan said the policyholder was impressed by the entire process. “You have this building that means the world to you and it burns down and you want to know what happened,” said Donan, adding that the structural issues with the building made the insured uncertain whether a cause could be identified. “Then your insurance company goes to extraordinary lengths to get you an answer. They actually brought in a robot! Nothing changes the fact that they lost this place and its history, but at least we were able to assist in determining why.”
Based on the robot’s success in New York, Donan is working with carriers to better understand when and how this technology can be used. Instances of compromised structural integrity are at the top of the list. Fire origin and cause determinations can be difficult if investigators can’t look for burn patterns, collect evidence or document a scene. Even when the cause of the damage is known – for instance, an earthquake – questions related to subrogation may require visual assessment. Applications also exist for investigating confined spaces, detecting hazardous materials and working in hazardous environments.