Tech Zone

WPI Team to Train Humanoid Firefighting Robot

A Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) team is poised to help the Navy develop a humanoid firefighting robot, according to a press release.

Dmitry Berenson, PhD, a WPI professor, has received nearly $600,000 from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to develop motion planning algorithms for humanoid robots that are designed to fight fires aboard Navy ships.

With the award, Berenson, assistant professor of computer science and robotics engineering at WPI, will develop software for a firefighting robot built by Virginia Tech engineering students. The project has also been supported by University of Pennsylvania and Carnegie Mellon University robotics teams. Dubbed SAFFiR (short for Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot), the robot is designed to fight fires and perform other maintenance tasks. SAFFiR—which stands 5 foot 10 inches tall and weighs about 140 pounds—was put through an initial firefighting exercise on a ship in fall 2014 and will undergo more specialized tests this year with WPI’s help.

 

“By using autonomous humanoids, we’re hoping to reduce the need for Navy personnel who have to perform a whole host of tasks and to also help mitigate the risks to people in fire suppression scenarios,” said Berenson.

 

Thomas McKenna, PhD, a program officer for ONR, said the program was developed six years ago to support Navy personnel. “Substantial losses occur when you have a major fire on a ship and can’t suppress it at an early stage,” said McKenna, who added that ships often carry ordnance and other flammable systems.

 

Naval officials also noted that it can be difficult to keep sailors up-to-date on resource training, but that a robot could be continually reprogrammed with the latest processes.

 

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