Vision-guided humanoid robot and UAV work in tandem to fight fires

As part of an Office of Naval Research project called Damage Control Technologies for the 21st Century, a humanoid robot called the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot will work in tandem with a quadrotor unmanned aerial vehicle to fight fires.

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As part of an Office of Naval Research (ONR) project called Damage Control Technologies for the 21st Century (DC-21), a humanoid robot called the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) will work in tandem with a quadrotor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to fight fires.

Developed by researchers at Virginia Tech, SAFFiR is a 5'10'', 143 pound robot that has two legs and what the ONR referred to as a “super-human range of motion to maneuver in complex spaces.” On February 4, SAFFiR made its debut at the Naval Future Force Science & Technology EXPO. Earlier last year in November, the robot was tested aboard decommissioned Navy vessel the USS Shadwell. In the tests, the robot utilized infrared imaging technology to identify overheated equipment, and used a hose to extinguish a small fire in a series of experiments.

"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," said Dr. Thomas McKenna, ONR program manager for human-robot interaction and cognitive neuroscience. "The long-term goal is to keep Sailors from the danger of direct exposure to fire."

While specific makes or models aren’t listed, SAFFiR utilized a number of components for its imaging system, including infrared stereo cameras and a rotating LIDAR laser, enabling it to see through dense smoke on the ship. The robot is programmed to take measured steps and handle hoses on his own, but for now, takes his instruction from researchers at computer console.

"The robot has the ability to do autonomous tasks, but we have a human in the loop to allow an operator to intervene in any type of task that the robot’s doing," said Brian Lattimer, associate professor for mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech.

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