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SAFFiR robot could be putting out fires on Navy ships


March 9, 2012

SAFFiR, the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, is being developed to help put out fires on naval vessels

SAFFiR, the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, is being developed to help put out fires on naval vessels

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If there's one thing that you don't want happening on board a ship, it's a fire. People on board burning ships can't simply run out onto the streets, as they hopefully could in the case of a structural fire, plus many people caught belowdecks don't have windows nearby to climb out of. Then, there's also the fact that crew members fighting such fires have to work in narrow, claustrophobic passageways, instead of wide-open roads. Given that fires are particularly possible on military ships, due to attacks by enemy forces, America's Naval Research Laboratory is now developing a special something to help fight fires at sea - it's called SAFFiR, the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot.

SAFFiR will be an autonomous bipedal humanoid robot, based on the CHARLI-L1 robot created at Virginia Tech - the school is a partner in the project, as is the University of Pennsylvania.

Part of the reason for choosing a humanoid design is the fact that ships are created with that body form in mind. A short, wide, wheeled robot wouldn't do well trying to navigate the narrow corridors, hatches, ladders and stairs on a naval ship.

Additionally, human crew members need to be able to relate to it (somewhat) as it will be fighting fires alongside them - although SAFFiR will be autonomous, it will also be designed to track the focus of attention of a human team leader, respond to gestures such as hand-pointing, and possibly even understand and respond to natural spoken language.

Virginia Tech's CHARLI-L1 robot, which SAFFiR is based on

SAFFiR will be equipped with multiple sensory devices, including a video camera, gas sensor, and a stereo infrared camera that will allow it to see through smoke. The robot's upper body will be capable of operating fire suppression equipment and throwing propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT) grenades. Its lower body will be able to walk in all directions, step over obstacles, and maintain balance in pitching seas, thanks to six-axis force/torque sensors in the feet.

Weight will be minimized and distributed by an aluminum central structure, along with titanium springs at the joints. The battery pack should allow for approximately 30 minutes of firefighting action.

Although SAFFiR is still in development, it is hoped that it will be ready for testing in a shipboard environment by next September.

Source: Naval Research Laboratory

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

A sterling cycle engine cooled by the flow of water through the hose could keep the power on as long as the fire lasts.


It looks really well engineered. And perhaps one of the few military robots that could have direct and positive impact on society. I hope it succeeds.


Cost of the developing robot for 30 minutes of firefighting that can hopefully barely do basic stuff, compared to cost of hiring a fire fighting guy? ^^ They be trollin


Danielo- There is only a limited amount of space on ships, and these robots could be stuffed into a little closet, hooked into the ship's reactor. Firefighters wouldn't take too kindly to that, and they have to be fed, watered, have a salary, pensions, etc. The robots are a better deal all around, and the space that the firefighters would take up can go to other crew members that would be more useful to the operation of the ship 24/7.


Hoovooloo -

Not to mention the dangers of fighting a hot fire in an enclosed space. The robot could stay at station until it melted. A human would have to abandon his post way before then.



Serve on a ship and fight a fire THEN critique the technology. Can you imagine the environment? An enclosed space filled with equipment, an uncontrolled fire and people inside trying to put it out.


Wouldn't the robot be more effective at moving throughout the cramped ship if it were a giant spider with glowing infrared detecting eyes and fire suppressant that shoots out of its rear? I can appreciate wanting to have the crew be able to relate to the robot, but isn't that more of a problem that occurs when the appearance of the robot approaches the uncanny valley?

All joking aside, Jonoxn summed it up well. This robot looks like the kind of thing that has great potential to save lives and positively impact society, not just in the armed forces, but in all facets of society (Assuming robots don't replace people in the workforce and cause mass rebellion). Exciting to see for sure.

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