bots IN BRIEF
The Office of Naval Research has
announced that they're developing SAFFiR — a
humanoid firefighting robot designed to operate
aboard ships that is going to be developed in
partnership with Virginia Tech's RoMeLa (already
famous for their CHARLI humanoid).
SAFFiR (which stands for Shipboard
Autonomous Firefighting Robot) will be able to
do the following:
• SAFFiR is designed with enhanced multimodal sensor technology for advanced
navigation and a sensor suite that includes
a camera, gas sensor, and stereo IR camera
to enable it to see through smoke.
• SAFFiR's upper body will be capable of
manipulating fire suppressors and
throwing propelled extinguishing agent
technology (PEAT) grenades.
• The robot will be capable of walking in all
directions, balancing in sea conditions, and
traversing obstacles like ladders.
• SAFFiR will have multimodal interfaces that will enable the robot to track the focus of attention of the human
team leader, as well as to allow the robot to understand and respond to gestures, such as pointing and hand
signals. Where appropriate, natural language may also be incorporated, as well as other modes of communication
The reason that SAFFIR is a humanoid (and not something far easier to
manage like a quadruped) is that it's designed to be able to fight fires
aboard ships which means that it's going to need to be able to climb up and
down very steep staircases and ladders. However, getting a bipedal
humanoid to pull off a feat like this is not going to be easy. It wouldn’t be
easy to do in a lab setting, much less in a ship that's on fire, dark, hot,
smokey, and probably rolling and pitching on ocean waves. SAFFIR will have
to be able to handle running into things and falling and getting up again
without significantly damaging itself — all in overheated environments with
poor sensor data.
A humanoid-type robot was chosen because it was deemed best suited
to operate within the confines of an environment that was designed for
human mobility, and it offers opportunities for other potential warfighting
applications within the Navy and Marine Corps.
At this stage, SAFFIR seems like a very ambitious program, but since
the Navy is involved, hopefully the ambition will be backed by a giant pile
24 SERVO 05.2012