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Naval Lab, Universities Design Firefighting Robot

CHARLI prototype robot (Virginia Tech)

CHARLI prototype robot (Virginia Tech)

The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., with researchers from Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania, are building a humanoid-type robot to fight shipboard fires on new combat vessels. The device is based on the Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence (CHARLI, pictured left) prototype developed at Virginia Tech.

The Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) is designed to move autonomously throughout a ship, interact with people, and handle many of the dangerous firefighting tasks normally performed by humans. The designers selected a humanoid style of robot in order to operate in an environment designed for human mobility. The device is expected to maneuver in the narrow passages and ladderways that are unique to a ship, a capability older robots have found difficult.

SAFFiR is designed to walk in all directions, balance in sea conditions, and cross obstacles. It has sensors for advanced navigation that include a camera, gas sensor, and stereo infrared camera that can see through smoke, with a battery that supports 30 minutes of firefighting activity. The upper body is expected to manipulate fire suppression equipment and throw grenades with fire extinguishing materials.

The lab says the robot will also have intelligence to allow it to interact with damage control personnel as part of a team. SAFFiR’s development includes algorithms to allow autonomous mobility and decision making by the robot as a team member.

To enable natural interaction with a human team leader, the robot will have interfaces to allow it to focus on the human team leader. The algorithms will also allow the robot to understand and respond to gestures, such as pointing and hand signals. Natural language may also be incorporated, as well as other types of communication and supervision.

The team plans to test SAFFiR in September 2013 on the ex-USS Shadwell, a decommissioned United States Navy Landing Ship Dock, moored in Mobile, Alabama. The ship serves as the Navy’s full-scale damage control research, development, test, and evaluation platform. The lab says the ex-USS Shadwell is regularly set ablaze in a controlled environment for test and research purposes.

SAFFiR infographic (U.S. Naval Research Lab)

SAFFiR infographic; click on image for full-size display (U.S. Naval Research Lab)

Read more: Honda Advances Autonomous Humanoid Robot and Robot Arm

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