Scientists Unveil Shipboard Firefighting Robot

Rob Almeida
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February 6, 2015

MOBILE, Ala. (Nov. 6, 2014) John Seminatore, a graduate student at Virginia Tech, secures the Office of Naval Research-sponsored Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) during testing aboard the Naval Research Laboratory’s ex-USS Shadwell in Mobile, Alabama. The bipedal humanoid robot, developed as a test bed for autonomous firefighting and damage control operations, was tethered to a power source for demonstrations aboard the Navy’s fire test platform. (U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams/Released)

Scientists and researchers from Virginia Tech and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) unveiled the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) at the Naval Future Force Science & Technology EXPO in Washington, D.C. this week.

“We set out to build and demonstrate a humanoid capable of mobility aboard a ship, manipulating doors and fire hoses, and equipped with sensors to see and navigate through smoke,” said Dr. Thomas McKenna, ONR program manager for human-robot interaction and cognitive neuroscience. “The long-term goal is to keep Sailors from the danger of direct exposure to fire.”

SAFFiR stands 5 feet 10 inches and weighs 143 pounds.  It is equipped with infrared stereo vision and a rotating laser for light detection and ranging (LIDAR) which enables it to see through dense smoke.

“We have taken a look at other kinds of sensors that you can put on these robots,” said McKenna. “For instance, a bipedal robot could be configured to take shipboard measurements, scan for corrosion and leaks, and identify changes to the shape of the room from its original configuration. By taking on these time-consuming tasks, SAFFiR could free up Sailors for jobs that more fully take advantage of their training and technical skillsets.”

The robot will, of course, be commanded via a human interface with a fire team leader and will enable a “hybrid force,” where robots such as SAFFiR supplement an existing fire team.

Watch the following video to see it in action:


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