Firefighting robots that look like adult-sized humans are being tested to see if using them would be feasible to fight fires at sea. The goal would be to keep those who are fighting fires typically, like real people, out of harm’s way – in exchange for utilizing these robots to go where humans should not. This week in Washington, D.C the Naval Future Force Science and Technology Expo played host to one of these very robots. While it was just a prototype, the benefits are incredibly obvious, and the technology is very much within reach still. The robots have a name, and at length is called Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot.
That might seem like a mouthful so that SAFFiR will suffice. It stands like a human and measures 5 feet 10 inches. It weighs 140 lbs. And can accomplish as much as a human firefighter, within reason, especially in those riskier situations where getting people on board – might be a challenge. SAFFiR has a number of safety features and visual abilities. It can sense distances, make measurements with camera lenses, and even use thermal imaging technology to take care of visuals when SAFFiR can’t necessarily see through traditional means. One of the individuals who was a part of the team that designed this robot pointed out that “It’s not going to replace Navy firefighters; it’s going to assist Navy firefighters.”
The robot was tested on an actual ship late in 2014 and performed well from start to finish. It navigated close spaces well, it was able to fully grasp and utilize a hose, and even did well putting out the fire that it was tasked with putting out. Another one of the co-creators of the robot named John Seminatore of Virginia Tech said “We have demonstrated a real-world application for humanoid robots that no one has done before. Manipulating an empty hose or walking down a hallway is very different than operating in a heat-warped, soot-filled corridor, dragging a hose filled with water.”
Clearly though, even if the robot is challenged by working with the more advanced scenarios this is a great place to start for SAFFiR. It gives scientists and those members of the Navy working with this robot to begin understanding how the technology works, before it becomes more prevalent as that technology improves.