(Source: ONR/U.S. Navy)
The U.S. Navy hopes the SAFFiR robot will one day be able to fight fires on Navy ships

The United States Navy has been working with Virginia Tech to develop the Shipboard Autonomous Fire-Fighting Robot (SAFFiR), a humanoid robot that will hopefully be able to locate and suppress fires on ships.

SAFFiR, chronicled in a recent report in Military Times, is 5'10" (1.778 m) and weighs 140 pounds (63.5 kg), with the ability to walk on different types of terrain, even while carrying a payload. Engineers were careful to ensure the robot is able to accurately analyze where it’s going, identify its environment and how to best navigate its way to a fire.

SAFFiR utilizes infrared sensors, LIDAR, and light detection technology so it is able to autonomously handle itself while onboard Navy ships. Designers say the robot is able to withstand temperatures better than humans, and since they do not get tired or dehydrated, are better suited to handle intense incidents.

SAFFiR must be tethered in place while not being used, and currently isn’t fast enough to be an effective first responder, but is making progress. In addition, designers want to provide it with better ability to work its way through confusing environments, such as doorways and stairwells – a difficult task that they are solving one step at a time.




SAFFiR components are under design at a robotics lab at Virginia Tech

"That may sound like a very simple thing to us as humans, but to a robot that is incredibly difficult," said John Seminatore, graduate researcher at the Virginia Tech Terrestrial Robotics Engineering and Controls Laboratory (TREC Lab). "Robots are very good at things people are bad at. I can make a robot that is very strong very easily. But it is the simple things that humans do that robots have trouble with."

The first demonstration was made in November 2014, with SAFFiR successfully able to walk on uneven surfaces, identify something on fire, locate a hose, and handle the situation. SAFFiR had a human handler operating it via computer, but Navy and Virginia Tech engineers expect it to be able to work autonomously one day.

SAFFiR walking

A student tests an assembled prototype in a simulated exercise.

The Navy doesn’t plan for SAFFiR to replace damage control specialists in the near future, but could help augment staff for new ships with minimal human personnel.

Looking ahead, designers will create more advanced sensors, while improving the robot's speed and communication abilities. There is no set date when the Navy and Virginia Tech engineers want SAFFiR to take an active role on Navy ships, but it won’t happen until the robot is able to pass all necessary tests.

(Images Courtesy of the DoD, U.S. Navy ONR, and Virginia Tech)

Sources: Military Times, BGR

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