Navy and Colleges Working to Build Robot Firefighter

Before the year is out, the Navy will start a fire on one of its ships and send in a robot to put it out, reports The Boston Globe.

Designed at Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania, the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, or SAFFiR, is a two-legged machine built to climb stairs and open watertight hatches just like a human. But Dennis Hong, one of SAFFiR’s developers, said the robot is built to withstand flames and smoke that humans might not survive.

Even as Boston mourns the loss of two firefighters trapped in a blaze in March, engineers in Massachusetts and around the world are working to develop robots that may one day take the place of humans in dangerous environments — from burning buildings to damaged nuclear power plants.

Search-and-rescue robots that roll on wheels or caterpillar treads were deployed during disasters such as the 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Last year, a hose-wielding robot from South Korea tackled a major fire in Illinois. And in May, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police used an unmanned drone to find an injured man who was lost in a remote area of Saskatchewan, in what may be the first case of a drone aircraft saving a life.

Now the US government and world-class universities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Worcester Polytechnic Institute are developing humanoid rescue robots, two-legged machines designed to climb stairs, open doors, operate fire hoses, even drive emergency vehicles.

But do not expect to see such robots in action anytime soon.

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