Navy Unveils Firefighting Robot Prototype

Scientists unveiled a firefighting robot prototype at the Naval Future Force Science & Technology EXPO, revealing details about its successful demonstrations last fall aboard the USS Shadwell, a decommissioned Navy vessel, reports phys.org.

The Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR), sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), walked across uneven floors, used thermal imaging to identify overheated equipment, and used a hose to extinguish a small fire in a series of experiments Nov. 3-5, 2014.

Developed by researchers at Virginia Tech, the two-legged, or bipedal, humanoid robot is helping ONR evaluate the applications of unmanned systems in damage control and inspections aboard naval vessels, supporting the autonomy and unmanned systems focus area in the Navy’s Science and Technology Strategy.

“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. The unique mechanism design on the robot equips it with super-human range of motion to maneuver in complex spaces.

“Balancing on any type of terrain that’s unstable — especially for bipedal robots — is very difficult,” said Brian Lattimer, associate professor for mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech. “Whole-body momentum control allows for the robot to optimize the locations of all of its joints so that it maintains its center of mass on uncertain and unstable surfaces.”

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