U.S. Navy sends fire fighting robots to boot camp

The outbreak of a fire aboard a ship out to sea is pretty much one of the worst things that can happen. When the flames start licking at the sails and rigging (ships still have those, right?) you're just as likely to die of smoke inhalation as you are from burns or drowning. Normally, fires aboard ships aren't something that sailors have to worry too much about nowadays — but then, the U.S. Navy isn't your average yachting club, being that its nominal purpose is to be well prepared for getting shot at.

When a fire breaks out aboard a massive naval vessel, a lot of lives are on the line, and stamping out those flames as quickly as possible becomes very, very important. But if the fire was the result of enemy action or exploding munitions or fuel, getting close enough to the blaze to put it out could kill anyone tasked with saving the ship. That's why the U.S. Navy has recently held a series of tests for a new robotic fire fighter. The robot, being developed in cooperation with researchers from both Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania, is called the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, or SAFFiR for short.

Looking somewhat like DARPA's ATLAS robot, SAFFiR is not designed to replace human fire fighters entirely, but rather to become a member of a team made up of both humans and robots. Thanks to a light-weight, high temperature polyetheretherketone (PEEK)-like phthalonitrile-resin, the robot's electronics are safe at temperatures of up to 932 degrees Fahrenheit. While its current round of tests mostly involve opening non-burning doors and walking across gravel, SAFFiR will complete shipboard trials later this year, and likely one day make a life-saving addition to fire fighting teams tasked with saving the lives of their shipmates.

Via Navy Research Lab

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