In Brief
In the future, firemen may be get a helping hand from technology to help put out fires--in the form of fire fighting robots.
The Roof Is On Fire

The bravery of firefighters around the world is truly inspirational. However now world is at a point where technology could prevent the need to put human lives at risk when a fire breaks out.

That’s the premise behind the $600,000 grant that was recently awarded by the Office of Naval Research to a team of researchers from the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) who is developing a software that will let existing SAFFiR robots navigate tight spaces and put out fires.

Check out this video to see how it works:

SAFFiR

SAFFiR, an acronym for Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, is a 6 feet tall machine that weighs at 140 pounds. It was originally developed by researchers from Virginia Tech and is specifically designed to fight fires on naval ships.

With the grant in place, WPI is seeking to improve the robot’s functionality, allowing it to become more nimble and intelligent for its primary purpose. Dmitry Berenson, a professor of computer science and robotics engineering at WPI, shares that his team’s experience with “motion planning for humanoid robots, which must perform in complicated scenarios” became a crucial factor for the navy. If the project proves to be a success, it means that robots could be used to fight raging infernos and minimize the risk that human fire fighters face on the job.

Previous experiments have already shown SAFFiR to be capable of locating and walking toward a fire, grabbing a hose and using it to put flames out. Berenson and his colleagues are working on algorithms to improve these functions, eg. the ability to walk up stairs.

There’s still a long way to go before the robot is ready to be used for real-world fire scenarios but researchers are looking into testing the robot on the USS Shadwell, a decommissioned US Navy landing ship, in later stages of the research.