Naval Research Lab Developing Autonomous Firefighting Robot

SAFFiR is a humanoid robot that would be outfitted with sensors and is being designed to interact with people and perform many of the dangerous firefighting tasks now done by humans.

The latest eye-popping fire safety project from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is a humanoid robot firefighter, Donna McKinney writes in a March 7 news story for the Washington, D.C.-based laboratory. The Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) is being developed by an interdisciplinary team formed by the lab, with researchers from Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania working on the project.

McKinney's article says SAFFiR is being designed to move autonomously inside a ship's narrow passageways and ladderways, interact with people on board, and fight fires. It would do many of the dangerous firefighting tasks normally done by human beings.

Sensors on the robot will include a camera, a gas sensor, and a stereo IR camera so it can see through smoke. "Its upper body will be capable of manipulating fire suppressors and throwing propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT) grenades. It is battery powered that holds enough energy for 30 minutes of firefighting. Like a sure-footed sailor, the robot will also be capable of walking in all directions, balancing in sea conditions, and traversing obstacles," she writes.

This project is part of the broader portfolio of fire safety research being done by the Navy Technology Center for Safety & Survivability, also located in Washington. Three years ago, McKinney posted a report about its successful full-scale fire tests of high expansion foam aboard the ex-USS Shadwell in Mobile, Ala. The robot will be tested aboard the Shadwell in September 2013.

The laboratory has been working on scientific and technological challenges of the Navy for more than 85 years. It has about 2,500 employees in Washington and at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and a site in Monterey, Calif.

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