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Grenade-throwing robot to fight fires on ships

Story highlights

  • Robot being developed by U.S. Naval Research Laboratory will tackle fires on military vessels
  • Autonomous robot will launch firefighting grenades and interact with human firefighters
  • Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania to work on project

It might look like science fiction but the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) hopes to turn this humanoid robot into a seafaring fact in an effort to improve firefighting capabilities on board military vessels.

Currently at the development stage, the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (or SAFFiR for short) is intended to combat fires in the cramped conditions of a ship, saving lives and costly equipment.

Armed with cameras and a gas sensor, the battery-powered SAFFiR will be "capable of activating fire suppressors" and throwing "propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT) grenades," says the NRL.

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Despite its decidedly flat-looking feet, the NRL says the robot will be a "sure-footed sailor" capable of "walking, balancing and traversing obstacles" autonomously. Furthermore, it will be able to interact with humans as part of a wider firefighting team.

It is being developed in conjunction with researchers at Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania, as a next step from Virginia Tech's CHARLI-L1 (Cognitive Humanoid Autonomous Robot with Learning Intelligence) robot. CHARLI-L1 is a five-foot tall humanoid robot built by students from the Virginia Tech College of Engineering's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory.

    The NRL says SAFFiR will be tested on board the ex-USS Shadwell -- a decommissioned landing ship dock used for fire fighting experiments -- towards the end of 2013.