The US Navy has begun to test the firefighting abilities of a humanoid robot it has been developing for several years. The Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) walks on two legs, operates a fire hose, and even wears a track suit. The Navy is hoping SAFFiR can one day supplement its traditional human firefighting teams.
"This is a program that's been going on for about five years basically to develop a humanoid capable of fire suppression," Thomas McKenna said in an Office of Naval Research (ONR) video about the project. "There's substantial losses incurred when you have a major fire and you can't suppress it at an early stage."
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John Farley of the Naval Research Laboratory said that he sees the robot's quick learning curve as a likely lifesaver.
"Sometimes it's hard to keep the sailors up to the latest as far as training is concerned," Farley said. "Sometimes they could create an environment and make it worse."
"Now, the robot could be trained and constantly updated to make sure that conditions are not as bad as what a human could make it."
Tests of the firefighting robot have gone well thus far with SAFFiR being able to hold and operate a fire hose while putting out a fire. However, there are plenty of problems to address before SAFFiR can become deployed on Navy ships. For one, the robot is not yet waterproof or fireproof.
Reaction to SAFFiR's testing has been positive.
"Humanity is getting closer and closer to a time when we will integrate our daily tasks with robots, and androids are so enticing because they can work easily in a world humankind has shaped for itself," Foxtrot Alpha's Tyler Rogoway said in a piece on the robot. "The ability for such machines to one day execute today's most dangerous and mundane jobs will change the way we work, fight and live on a daily basis."
"If they can work out the kinks, these things could save a lot of lives in a few years," Blastr's Trent Moore said.
"For this test, a human at a computer console directed the robot, but eventually SAFFiR will do all of these things on its own — hopefully paving the way for a new generation of autonomous disaster response bots," Digital Trends' Drew Prindle said.
Despite the long road ahead ONR's Dr. McKenna is optimistic about the future.
"We're working towards human-robot teams," Dr. McKenna said. "What we call the ‘hybrid force'."
"Humans and robots working together."