New Sea Legs For A Robot Firefighter

SAFFiR, the shipboard firefighting robot, learns to walk

Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) In Testing

Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) In Testing

John Williams, U.S. Navy, via Wikimedia Commons

Where there's smoke, there should be firefighting robots. At least ,that's the aim of the humanoid Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR, yes, pronounced "safer") in development by the Office of Naval Research. The Navy demonstrated the robot last winter, and it was one of the competitors at DARPA's robotics grand challenge last summer. To help SAFFiR walk a little better, the Navy just awarded a $600,000 grant to Worcester Polytechnic Institute to teach the robots how to walk better.

Says WPI:

WPI is testing its algorithms in a simulation of a complex, constrained environment using a virtual model of the SAFFiR robot. The team can plan a variety of movements for the robot and then see if it is able to walk correctly or if it falls down. " Later this year, the WPI team will test its algorithms in the actual robot in controlled conditions within a ship environment mock-up at Virginia Tech. The robot will walk up stairs and perform other locomotion tasks "to ensure the algorithms are generating the correct motion," Berenson said.

The robot is made humanoid to fit into spaces built for humans, so it makes sense to give it sea legs. Yet there’s nothing inherent about the design of ships that necessitates a humanoid robot. In fact, making the firefighter person-sized and person-shaped might even get in the way. Here’s an alternate idea, from former U.S. Army technologist Jon Jeckell:

Until we get a wall-crawling spider-bot to fight fires on ships, a better-walking SAFFiR is probably our best bet. Watch a video on it below: