We first caught a glimpse of the Navy's robot firefighter during our look at Virgina Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory, and now the Navy itself has released some more details about the robot and its future testing plans. Called Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (or SAFFiR for short), the robot utilizes a system called "force control," which allows its AI to tell its motor to exert a specific amount of force in a certain direction. This, combined with titanium springs designed to simulate a human tendon, should give SAFFiR the mobility necessary to navigate the rocky terrain of a Navy ship.
But there's more to the robot than just its legs. The Naval Research Laboratory is also working with both Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania to develop algorithms that will allow it to move and make decisions autonomously, while still being able to understand directions like pointing and hand signals. SAFFiR's movement is also aided by a range of sensors that include a stereo IR camera that lets it see through smoke, and it has arms that can handle a fire suppressor and toss fire extinguishing grenades.
SAFFiR is still a ways off from being used in real-world situations, but it will get a significant test in late 2013 when it's taken aboard the decommissioned USS Shadwell — the same ship used to train human firefighters.