Image 1 - Humanoid Robot Developed By Navy To Fight Fires
March 10, 2012

Humanoid Robot Developed By Navy To Fight Fires

Scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) have begun to develop a humanoid robot to fight help shipboard fires.

Fires onboard Naval vessels can be costly, not to mention quite dangerous. In order to combat these issues, the NRL decided on a humanoid-type robot to operate and maneuver just as a human would. Additionally, by creating a humanoid-type robot, the Navy and Marine Corps may be able to use these robots for other potential wartime applications, thus saving lives.

The robot is being called SAFFiR, or Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, and will be designed to operate autonomously as it moves throughout the ship, handling the dangerous tasks of fighting shipboard fires and even interacting with other people on the ship. As many halls, rooms and passageways on the ship can be quite narrow, it is important to develop SAFFiR to be able to work in these often cramped conditions.

Using a suite of technology and sensors, SAFFiR will be able to handle a myriad of situations with many different applications. For example, the interdisciplinary team put together by the NRL is using multi-modal sensor technology for advanced navigation, as well as cameras, gas sensors, and even an IR camera to help SAFFiR see in smoky conditions. The upper body of the robot will be able to operate existing fire extinguishing implementations and suppressors as well as be able to launch propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT) grenades to extinguish the fire. As life on sea can be rocky, it was important to develop SAFFiR to be able to hold its footing as it moves through the ship. A six axis force/torque sensor in the ankles of the robot provide  steady footing as well as enhanced movement. Additionally, there is a hip and ankle parallel actuation to ensure speed, accuracy, and torque.

The team at NRL is also developing SAFFiR to work well as a part of a damage control team. To allow the robot autonomous mobility and decision-making skills, algorithms are being developed and will make the robot an integral part of the team. SAFFiR´s multimodal interfaces will allow humans to interact directly with the robot. It will be able to track the attention of the team leader, following the team leader wherever they may go. It will also be able to take both verbal and gesture-based commands and instructions.

Working with the NRL are researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Virginia Tech. According to plans, testing the firefighting robot in realistic firefighting scenarios should begin in September 2013 at the Navy Technology Center for Safety & Survivability.

Located in Washington, D.C, the Technology Center conducts research to solve safety issues facing the Navy, both present and future. Their fire research facilities include pressurable chambers up to a 10,000 cubic foot capacity as well as the ex-USS Shadwell. The USS-Shadwell, located in Mobile, Alabama, is used by the NRL to conduct full scale fire and damage control tests using specific scenarios and situations faced by active duty sailors. Such full scale and near-world testing will greatly benefit the development of SAFFiR and its ability to work under diverse situations.

The Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research is helping the NRL with the development of SAFFiR. They plan to provide specialized facilities and sensor systems to enhance the development of SAFFiR.


Image 1: The Naval Research Laboratory's Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) is a humanoid-type robot being designed for shipboard firefighting. Photo: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory

Image 2: Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania are working with NRL on the firefighting robot project. NRL's firefighting robot will be a follow-on version to the existing Virginia Tech CHARLI-L1 robot, pictured here. Photo: Virginia Tech


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