Military photo

A couple of weeks back we first heard about Octavia, the Naval Research Lab’s (NRL) and Office of Naval Research’s (ONR) new firefighting robot designed to perform “shoulder-to-shoulder” firefighting operations with humans aboard Navy vessels. Today we get to see Octavia in action, fighting a simulated fire in a demonstration video that is somewhat less-than-confidence-inspiring.

Admittedly, the emphatic gesturing and unnatural command language that Octavia’s human handler must employ–under emergency conditions, no less–are a bit awkward and clunky, as user interfaces go. Octavia itself seems in no real rush to extinguish this simulated shipboard fire–and if there’s one thing all flesh-and-blood firefighters understand, it’s that there are no spare seconds when your ship is ablaze in the middle of the ocean.

But to be fair, this platform is brand new. The NRL is working on improving the interface to be more natural so human-machine interactions will come off much more organically, like an exchange between two human firefighters. And if all goes to plan, Octavia will someday be able to not only go where human firefighters simply can’t, but also to use various instruments to characterize the type and behavior of a particular fire in order to devise the proper strategy for putting it out quickly and effectively.