A firefighting robot was revealed at the Naval Future Force Science & Technology EXPO last week. The robot, called the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR), was developed by researchers at Virginia Tech and is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The long-term goal is to use the robot to help keep sailors away from the dangers of direct fire. In the future, the robot could also be configured to perform maintenance checks aboard, such as scanning ships for corrosion. Ultimately, SAFFiR will save sailors’ time and ensure safety at sea.
In a demonstration on February 4, the robot used thermal imaging to identify the location of fires, and then it walked across uneven floors to the fire and extinguished the fire with a hose. The electromechanical robot is a 2-legged humanoid. It runs on batteries and all motors are electrical, so it wore a waterproof suit to protect it against steam, particulate, or water droplets. SAFFiR is equipped with visible cameras and sensors, including infrared stereovision and a rotating laser for light detecting and ranging (LIDAR), which allows the robot to see through dense smoke.
This was the first time the prototype was tested on a navy ship. Looking ahead, the ONR plans to sponsor advanced design, including equipping the robot with enhanced intelligence, communications capabilities, speed, computing power and increased battery life. Additionally, the researchers plan to improve the robotic mobility and address system integration issues. The robot can perform autonomous tasks, but a human operator will always be able to intervene if needed by sending instructions from a computer console.
We’re working toward human-robot teams. It’s what we call the hybrid force: humans and robots working together.