The U.S. Navy is looking for new ways to fight fires aboard vessels at sea, and their latest idea is to use this extremely cool robot. Welcome to the future.
Dubbed SAFFiR (Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot), the 143-pound, 5’10" robot uses infrared stereovision sensors and a rotating laser to see through dense smoke. Basically, the ‘bot would carry a water hose into areas too dangerous for a human to safely enter to combat potential fires.
But there are a few flaws. SAFFiR currently requires the control of a human operator, though a recent test version utilized a quadcopter drone to map out topography and lead the ‘bot toward the fire. Battery life currently peaks at just five minutes, but engineers hope to improve that with the next version.
Here’s what Dr. Thomas McKenna, the program manager for human-robot interaction and cognitive neuroscience, had to say about the project:
"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. The long-term goal is to keep Sailors from the danger of direct exposure to fire…
We have taken a look at other kinds of sensors that you can put on these robots. For instance, a bipedal robot could be configured to take shipboard measurements, scan for corrosion and leaks, and identify changes to the shape of the room from its original configuration. By taking on these time-consuming tasks, SAFFiR could free up Sailors for jobs that more fully take advantage of their training and technical skillsets.”
Navy officials hope to use the robots in tandem with human firefighter teams, and if they can work out the kinks, these things could save a lot of lives in a few years.