Nov 03 2015
Researchers at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Biorobotics Program, Virginia Tech University, and the University of Pennsylvania have built a humanoid robot the size of an adult that was able to fight a live fire aboard a U.S. Navy ship.
Named the shipboard autonomous firefighting robot (SAFFiR), the robotic firefighter is made out of aluminum, weighs 165 pounds, and stands 5 feet 10 inches tall.
Tom McKenna, Ph.D, program officer for the ONR Biorobotics Program, says that SAFFiR uses three types of sensors to navigate the spaces of a ship and locate the source of a fire.
“SAFFiR has a digital camera, a thermal imaging unit to see through the smoke and to detect heat, and a scanning radar to allow for accurate mapping,” McKenna says. “The robot has 33 degrees freedom of movement [and] can walk, bend its legs, swivel its head, and hold a hose and operate it with its hands.
ONR demonstrated the SAFFiR unit recently aboard the USS Shadwell, a U.S. Navy experimental facility that has a fire control laboratory where suppression technologies can be demonstrated on live fires.
During the demonstration, SAFFiR carried a one-inch hose line and nozzle to suppress the fire with a concentration of water and foam. The robot also can carry a backpack fire suppression unit and, as its abilities are developed, toss fire suppression grenades when necessary, McKenna points out.
“SAFFiR has not been fire-hardened yet,” McKenna notes. “The robot was standing at the door of the compartment when it was suppressing the fire on USS Shadwell. But all the personal protection equipment that human firefighters use to fight fires can be applied to the robot too.”
McKenna points out SAFFiR is still a research project that has to meet certain benchmarks to make it a viable technology.
“We have to meet Technical Readiness Levels,” he says. “We will continue to make the robot more robust in locomotion to take into account the rocking of a ship and give it the ability to use hand holds. We also will pursue a better human-robot interface and focus a bit more on better manipulators.”
About the author: Alan M. Petrillo is a Tucson, Ariz., journalist who writes for national and regional magazines and newspapers. He’s the author of several books on historical military firearms; and two historical mysteries, Full Moon, and his latest novel, Asylum Lane, all available at www.amazon.com.