Navy to test humanoid robot to fight fires

The Navy has teamed up with Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania to develop a humanoid robot to fight fires on-board its vessels.

The Navy Technology Center for Safety & Survivability at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., carries out research to solve Navy problems regarding combustion, fire extinguishing, fire modeling and scaling, damage control, and atmosphere hazards.

The robot, called the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, or SAFFiR for short, is designed to move throughout the ship, interact with people and fight fires. It will be charged with handling the dangerous firefighting tasks normally performed by humans. The humanoid robot will be able to maneuver well in the narrow passages and ladders unique to a ship.

It will be equipped with a camera, gas sensor and stereo infrared camera to enable it to see through smoke. Its upper body will be capable of throwing propelled extinguishing agent technology grenades, and its battery will hold a charge for 30 minutes of firefighting.

The Navy expects its robot to be a “sure footed sailor” that will be able to walk in all directions, balance itself in sea conditions and move around obstacles.

The robot’s programming will allow for it to be a team member with autonomous mobility and decision-making. The latest in artificial intelligence technology, it will be able to naturally interact with a human team leader, capable of understanding and responding to gestures such as pointing and hand signals.

The Navy has the world’s most unique fire test vessel, the ex-USS Shadwell, a decommissioned ship used for firefighting experiments in Mobile, Ala. Full-scale fire and damage control tests are conducted using real scenarios facing active-duty sailors.

Using the ex-USS Shadwell, scientists are able to enhance their technology for introducing advanced damage control to the fleet. The ship provides a unique opportunity to realistically experience a true damage-control environment.

The Navy expects to begin testing the SAFFiR on-board the ex-USS Shadwell in late September 2013.
Photo Credits: Navy Technology Center for Safety & Survivability, U.S. Navy

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