Meet the Navy’s Firefighting Robot

This is wild. We’ve been writing a ton about robots and drones lately because, well, it seems that the pace at which they’re becoming a fundamental part of warfare increases with each month.

Whenever we hear about Navy drones we tend to think of underwater robots or things like the Fire Scout chopper. The Navy Research Lab s working on a humanoid shipboard robot that would be sent in to fight fires on ships.

Yup, a humanoid robot, straight up Terminator style. Except instead of killing people this one is being designed to potentially save them by walking and crawling through narrow smoky passageways and using its sensors to figure out where to throw grenades loaded with fire retardent. Yup, firefighting grenades.

Here’s what NRL says about its new project:

To help further improve future shipboard firefighting capability, scientists at the Naval Research Laboratory have formed an interdisciplinary team to develop a humanoid robot that could fight fires on the next generation of combatants. A humanoid-type robot was chosen because it was deemed best suited to operate within the confines of an environment that was designed for human mobility and offered opportunity for other potential warfighting applications within the Navy and Marine Corps.

The Naval Research Laboratory’s Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) is a humanoid-type robot being designed for shipboard firefighting. 

The firefighting robot, called the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR), is being designed to move autonomously throughout the ship, interact with people, and fight fires, handling many of the dangerous firefighting tasks that are normally performed by humans. The humanoid robot should be able to maneuver well in the narrow passages and ladderways that are unique to a ship and challenging for most older, simpler robots to navigate.

The robot is designed with enhanced multi-modal sensor technology for advanced navigation and a sensor suite that includes a camera, gas sensor, and stereo IR camera to enable it to see through smoke. Its upper body will be capable of manipulating fire suppressors and throwing propelled extinguishing agent technology (PEAT) grenades. It is battery powered that holds enough energy for 30 minutes of firefighting. Like a sure-footed sailor, the robot will also be capable of walking in all directions, balancing in sea conditions, and traversing obstacles.

Another key element of the SAFFiR development is to allow damage control personnel and the robot to work cohesively as a team. Algorithms are being developed to allow autonomous mobility and decision making by the robot as a team member. To enable natural interaction with a human team leader, the robot will have multimodal interfaces that will enable the robot to track the focus of attention of the human team leader, as well as to allow the robot to understand and respond to gestures, such as pointing and hand signals. Where appropriate, natural language may also be incorporated, as well as other modes of communication and supervision.

Researchers from Virginia Tech and University of Pennsylvania are also working with NRL on the project. They plan to test the firefighting robot in a realistic firefighting environment onboard the ex-USS Shadwell in late September 2013.

  • prodozul

    wouldn’t it be better just to give the sailors those grenades rather than building a robot that throws them?

    • Thunder350

      Shhh, the Military Industrial Complex doesn’t want law makers to know that!

      But really, this “could” save lives during a real fire, especially if its during combat.

  • Praetor

    We should call it the “Super Sprinkler”…. Come on…. Firefighting grenades? Yup, I see what you did here….

  • DC2 Jennings

    spoken by someone who has never even contemplated fighting a main engine room fire prodozul. willing yourself to enter the gates of hell is probably the worst experience the normal Navy trains for. i am must amazed they think they can develop the technology to actually walk through a passageway in heavy seas. very impressive.


    • orly?

      I agree DC2, but I will only be impressed once they improve this tech to the point where they can go over knee knockers and fit its huge frame into the small assed hatches of the ship.

  • HolyCrow

    Call me a fool but I’d rather see RC car’s loaded with fire ret—-ant ( can I say that word). If I’m stuck on a ship that is on fire and this terminator robot is walkin’ through the halls I would start trying to kill it or more likely just die of a heart attack.

    • Riceball

      The problem with an RC car or any car based design is that all Navy ships have water tight doors that don’t reach the ground but sit a few inches or so off the deck. Because of that no car type design would be able to make it very far along a ship’s corridor.

  • JCC3

    Scariest thing I did while I was in was in firefighting school at Norfolk, when the nozzle guy on our hose party slipped and we almost got the fire underneath us. This thing would have been great to have.

  • Taj

    Im almost positive that other “tactical” applications will be or already are being developed for this robot, and im sure we wont hear about those projects anytime soon…

  • Ara

    The start of new era, just like George W. Bush said the past is over(I’m not a fan of him though!)

  • Rob

    It will be interesting if they manage to make this work. Engine fires and fires at sea can be nightmare, having tool like this will be interesting. However, the government still has trouble balancing the budget when its comes to Defense projects. Inflation is going be troublesome enemy for things like this Robot.

  • stephen russell

    I agree with poster, add micro sprinklers in robot for fighting fires & GPS plans of ship to find escape routes.
    & or carry mobile Oxygen Units to cover over say 20, 30 persons to egress out of ship.
    Must for SyFy Channel to use.
    Test on Cruise liners.

  • I’ve seen the movies. If I know anything at all about robotics (which I don’t), it’s that all seemingly friendly and helpful humanoid robots are programmed with a secret directive to kill people.

    • jamFRIDGE

      “Real Steel” is what I see here

      • Thomas L. Nielsen

        I see a SkyNet uplink, simulated human skin and a pulsed plasma rifle in the 40MW range (I know, the original quote was “40-Watt range”, but let’s face it, 40W is for wusses….).

        Regards & all,

        Thomas L. Nielsen

  • Valenburg

    Seems like a pretty expensive alternative in this day and age of ships barely meetin materiel readiness. Why not equip the Attack team Leaders with some of those grenades in the mean time?

  • Lance

    Looks good for firefighting in ships but might be too expensive to field for every ship and dont know if a robot w/o touch or senses would be better than a human anyway.

  • Speedy

    Steve Jackson Games “Car Wars” had foam grenades 20+ years ago.

    Why has it taken the real world this long to catch up???

    I remember many Div 25 events where my car was hit by a flamethrower, the gas tank and ammo would have cooked off except for my trusy foam grenades.

    Australian AutoDueling Association for 20+ years.

  • RCDC

    How about a fire truck with 20 tubes of fire retardent granade launchers?

    • orly?

      FYI, most fires onboard a US Navy warship are INSIDE compartments of the warship. Some filled with ordinance, fuel, electronics, etc.

      • Twidget at large

        So make it a “tiny” firetruck. :D

  • Michael

    Drones, firefighting robots…seems like sometime we’ll hear about a whole aircraft carrier outfitted with drones, robots, etc., and no people.

    • Thomas L. Nielsen

      Like this: :-)

      Regards & all,

      Thomas L. Nielsen

      • Twidget at large

        Great idea, first you’ll have to convince the control freaks to do it. ;)

  • Mark

    Just make sure when the robot has to leave the team mate to go get something in Arnold’s voice it says, “Ah’ll be bahck.”

  • Jorma

    The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug…

  • tom mccoy

    Outside of falling overboard at night, walking into my main control fire in 1966 was my worst nightmare. If we can get a machine to do it. Huraah

  • pandaa

    It can’t be reasoned with. It can’t be bargained with. It doesn’t feel pity, or pain or fear, and it will absolutely never stop! …until the fire is out then ye, you’re good to go.

  • USSChallenger

    The Nerd side of me thinks that the idea of humanoid robots coming to fruition is great! My rational side thinks that this is a waste of time…at least for the near future. The great challenge of humanoid robots is balance, something that is still trying to be overcome. Unless this technical problem has been overcome–COMPLETELY–than we should stick to wheels or a robot that walks on all fours.

  • RCDC

    It looks like the posting is a myth. But this tech is already out there. It just needed to be applied and put together. NASA and other nations like Honda from Japan, South Korea, Britain already been experimenting and manufacturing robots.

  • Mike

    First, send the robot mess-cooking for 3 months…If it can handle washing pots & pans, maybe we’ll let it try out…

  • Screw the deficit! We need more robots!