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Engineering Students Make History With Firefighting Humanoid Robot

By Virginia Tech News

February 9, 2015

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) students and the U.S. Navy recently unveiled a firefighting humanoid robot at the Naval Future Force Science & Technology Expo in Washington, DC.

Students from the Terrestrial Robotics Engineering and Controls Lab and the Extreme Environments, Robotics, & Materials Laboratory built the bipedal, 140-pound robot, which stands nearly six feet tall. They tested the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) in a fire onboard the former U.S.S. Shadwell in Mobile Bay, AL, last fall.

SAFFiR can walk, stretch, and bend its legs, swivel its head, and hold and operate a hose with its hands. The robot can see in three formats: a standard stereo camera rig, lasers to provide precise ranges to obstacles, and stereo thermal imaging for range finding through smoke and detecting heat.

The long-range plan is for the robot to operate autonomously, but take instruction from sailors and firefighters with safety as key. "These robots can work closely with human firefighters without firefighters being directly exposed to steam or heat, fire, and smoke," says the U.S. Office of Naval Research's Thomas McKenna.

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