US Navy tests SAFFiR, an advanced fire fighting robot with autonomous capacity

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US Navy has dabbled with many a robotic contraption in the last year – be it the autonomous attack boats or the stealthy spying fish. However, this time around, things take a more practical turn with the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (or SAFFiR), a robot tailored to putting out fires aboard naval marine-crafts. The bipedal, humanoid robot made by the collaborative effort of US Navy and Office of Naval Research (ONR), stands at 178 cm (5 ft 10 inches) tall, and weighs 143 lb (65 kg). And, it is supposedly capable of moving over undulated terrain and operate in tight spaces – all with super-human capacity.

From the conventional perspective, fires raging across a naval warship is the worst-case scenario possible for any sailor abroad the craft. This is not just because of the imminent rescue procedures and lifeboat logistics, but also relates to the possibility of the fire reaching the magazine of the ship where all the explosive ammunition are stored. And, more often than not, even ships with on-board fires have to carry on with their tactical maneuvering when they are actively taking part in a military operation. For these reasons, the US Navy was particularly keen on developing an advanced robotic mechanism that could potentially solve some of the predicaments. As a solution, they have furnished the SAFFiR, with its framework based upon the CHARLI-L1 robot originally created by researchers at Virginia Tech.

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To that end, the SAFFiR boasts of sensors like infrared stereo-vision and a rotating laser for light detection and ranging (LIDAR) – both of which aids the droid in mapping specific areas and literally see through the smoke. The complementary programming also makes the robot autonomously capable of handling motion (with measured steps) and water hoses. However, the scientists have still not activated those progressive modes for the sake of initial testing with human-based controls. As Brian Lattimer, professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, makes it clear –

The robot has the ability to do autonomous tasks, but we have a human in the loop to allow an operator to intervene in any type of task that the robot’s doing.

This testing procedure also has a crucial future implication – with the intelligent robot expected to be proverbially ‘kept on a tight lease’ by being managed by on-board sailors and fire-bosses. And quite interestingly, the functionality of the SAFFiR doesn’t stop at detecting and fighting fires. According to Dr. Thomas McKenna, an ONR program manager –

We have taken a look at other kinds of sensors that you can put on these robots. 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 skill sets.

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Watch the SAFFiR in action (with the demonstration done aboard the fire training ship USS Shadwell)-

Source: Navy Live

Image Credits: US Navy.

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