SAFFiR is a humanoid model designed for shipboard firefighting. (Source: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory)
The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps plan to conceive, train, and deploy autonomous humanoid robots as shipboard firefighters. And, if the program is successful, they envision other assistance roles for the robots within the Navy and Marine Corps.
Called the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, SAFFiR was conceived by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory to be a humanoid robot that operated with autonomous navigation capabilities in the confines of spaces that were originally designed for humans. The first prototypes will be tested in 2013, when the Navy aims to demonstrate autonomous mobility throughout a ship, interaction with human supervisors, and the ability to take over dangerous firefighting tasks from humans.
The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, the Navy's central laboratory, will be working on the SAFFiR humanoid robot project with its Technology Center for Safety & Survivability (TCSS). This group specializes in combustion, fires, damage control, and atmosphere hazards. TCSS also has the world's only fire test ship where advanced damage control concepts can be realistically evaluated.
Also working on SAFFiR is the Navy's Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence. NCARAI researches AI, human factors, and human-centered computing applications of artificial intelligence. NCARAI will develop the algorithms that allow the SAFFiR firefighting robot to work naturally with human firefighters by using high-level reasoning. SAFFiR will also involve the Navy's Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research where sensor-, power-, energy- and, human-system interaction, networking, and communications can be simulated in littoral, desert, or tropical environments. NLASR will also assist with instrumented reconfigurable high-bay spaces that facilitates the integration of components into research prototypes.
SAFFiR will employ multiple sensors including a video camera, gas sensor, and stereo infrared cameras that can see through smoke. It will be designed to deploy standard fire suppressors including propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT). With a 30 minute firefighting battery life, navigation algorithms will allow SAFFiR to walk in any direction, balance during rolling seas, and traverse ad hoc obstacles.
SAFFiR's will also be able to deduce the focus of attention of its human supervisors, enabling it to makes decisions as a team member. The robot will also respond to gestures, such as pointing and other hand signals. It will also be able to understand natural language commands from supervisors.
Virginia Tech will work with the Navy, contributing the technology developed from its existing Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence. CHARLI was designed for domestic chores and elder care, but will serve as a starting point for SAFFiR. The University of Pennsylvania is also working with NRL on the project.