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Navy unveils robot firefighters

 

The Navy on Wednesday unveiled its prototype for a robot firefighter it hopes in the future can help inspect damages on ships. 

The 5-foot, 11-inch machine, dubbed the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR), weighs 143 pounds, walks on two feet and is described as having a "super-human range of motion."

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“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,” Dr. Thomas McKenna, program manager at the Office of Naval Research (ONR), said in a statement. 

“The long-term goal is to keep sailors from the danger of direct exposure to fire," he added. 

During tests in November on the USS Shadwell, a decommissioned dock landing ship, the robot walked on uneven floors, identified overheated equipment using thermal imaging and extinguished a small fire using a hose. It also has a rotating laser for light detection and ranging (LIDAR) to see through dense smoke.

The robot, a project of ONR, has been in the works for several years and was developed by scientists at Virginia Tech. While researchers say the robot can perform autonomous tasks, for not it is controlled using a computer console. 

The program's sponsor has plans for a more advanced design in the future, including providing the robot with enhanced intelligence, speed and processing abilities, such as communication, as well as an extended battery life. 

Details of the project and initial test results were shared Wednesday in Washington, D.C., at the Naval Future Force Science & Technology EXPO.

The Navy is known for its flare in showcasing its research projects, such as its Laser Weapon System (LaWS) installed on the USS Ponce last year. That weapon is reportedly ready for use against drones, helicopters and small boats.