SAFFiR Robot Takes First Steps on a Ship Ready to Fight...Fires (Almost)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The US Navy's SAFFiR robot had its first chance to suppress a fire on a ship recently.  The humanoid robot project, which is still in early development has made considerable progress in a short four years, and indicates a clear direction of the US military's goal of creating a human-robot hybrid force.

The latest version of the US Navy's 'firefighting' robot, Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot - SAFFiR was recently put aboard a naval test ship and run (rather slowly) through the paces.

"We're working towards human-robot teams—what we call the hybrid force: humans and robots working together."

SAFFiR is a two-legged, or bipedal, humanoid robot designed to help researchers evaluated unmanned systems to support sailors with damage control aboard naval vessels.

Built in partnership with Virginia Tech, SAFFiR utilizes infrared sensors, LIDAR, and light detection technology so it is able to autonomously handle itself while onboard a ship. The robot is battery-powered. The 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 Robot

Looking more like Boston Dynamic's ATLAS, than previous versions, SAFFiR was outfitted with a protective suit, and a fire hose that is perhaps not too dissimilar in configuration than a weapon.

Currently the robot is teleoperated, but the intention is to make SAFFiR autonomous.

SAFFiR Robot firing water gun
We bet you are thinking the same thing - Take that fire, pew pew!
According to Dr. Thomas McKenna, of the Office of Naval Research Human-Robot Interaction program, in the video above, the research still has, "some fundamental issues in the area of robotic mobility that we still have to address."  It is slow, for now.
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"We're working towards human-robot teams," says McKenna, "what we call the hybrid force: humans and robots working together."

Looking ahead, designers will develop 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 requirements. 

Until then, McKenna promises better and better demonstrations.  Also, don't be suprised if the hybrid force is fighting a lot more than fires in the not-to-distant future.

SOURCE  US Office of Naval Research

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