The U.S. Navy firefighting robot SAFFiR passed a major test, battling and beating a real fire on a real ship.

Okay, this wasn’t exactly like a scene from Backdraft. The 5’10”, 140-pound bipedal robot accomplished the task very, very slowly and with a good assist from the programmers at Virginia Tech not to mention a couple of handlers who were nearby to catch the lumbering bot if it happened to fall over.

Oh, and the robot actually put out the burning chair aboard the decommissioned USS Shadwell back in November 2014. SAFFiR (or Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot) is a joint project of Virginia Tech and the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

Engineering graduate students and Professor Brian Lattimer from the Terrestrial Robotics Engineering and Controls (TREC) Lab demonstrating THOR the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR) for the Office of Naval Research on board the ex-USS Shadwell, the Navy’s fire fighting training ship in Mobile, Alabama.

None of this, however, diminishes what SAFFiR was able to do. The robot, also known as THOR, stood and walked on its own, navigating the tight corridors of USS Shadwell, which was docked in Mobile Bay, Alabama. It then approached a shipmate, turned to detect a heat source behind a closed door and, after someone opened the door, picked up a fire hose and battled and beat the blaze. Critical in SAFFiR’s ability to detect and fight fires is its three vision systems, which include stereo cameras, an infrared camera (for heat) and laser radar.

THOR the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (aka SAFFiR) holds a real fire hose as it battles a real fire.

Cost may be a limiting factor, as well: Last year Tom McKenna, a program manager with the Office of Naval Research, told Mashable that a single firefighting robot could cost about $1 million. Even if and when the Navy figures out how to manage the costs of these robots and SAFFiR does start roaming U.S. navy ships and finding and fighting fires, it will be alongside human navy firefighters.

“These robots can work closely with human firefighters without firefighters being directly exposed to steam or heat, fire and smoke,” said McKenna.


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