At its latest technology expo, the U.S. Navy says its fire-fighting robot can put out blazes on board ships, while new unmanned boats create a ''swarm'' around threats at sea. Tara Cleary reports.
Ship fires like this one on a Greek ferry, can be deadly. Toxic smoke gets trapped inside and passengers can't access fresh air. But researchers from Virginia Tech in the U.S.A. think they've created the perfect solution to fight fire, while keeping personnel and passengers safe … a robot. Funded by the U.S. Navy and called SAFFIR - an acronym for Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot - the machine was put through its paces at the Navy's Future Force Science & Technology Expo in Washington. Virginia Tech research assistant, Nikolaus Wittenstein. SOUNDBITE: NIKOLAUS WITTENSTEIN, VIRGINIA TECH GRADUATE RESEARCH ASSISTANT, SAYING (English): "The robot can hold a fire nozzle, walk down a hallway following other crew members, look through a doorway, find the fire using its infrared cameras, point the nozzle at the fire and put the fire out." Modeled on human dimensions, the robot stands five feet, ten inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. And even with all its human-like characteristics, the robot won't be replacing Navy personnel says Rear Admiral Mat Winter. SOUNDBITE: REAR ADMIRAL MAT WINTER, CHIEF OF NAVAL RESEARCH, SAYING (English): "Just like we're not replacing all our manned aircraft with unmanned aircraft. What we're looking at is the appropriate complement and blending of autonomous systems with manned systems." The Navy also showed off its unmanned boats at the expo. Several together make up a 'swarm' designed to identify potential threats at sea and surround them. Using cameras, sensors and radar equipment, the boat not only drives itself, but also perceives the positions of other unmanned boats and coordinates their movements. And the exercises have so far been accident-free. SOUNDBITE: REAR ADMIRAL MAT WINTER, CHIEF OF NAVAL RESEARCH, SAYING (English): "They talk to each other, they separate, they don't run into each other, right, and then they've got waves they've got to take and then they swarm around the identified threat." The expo aims to nurture research partnerships and strengthen the Navy's technological advantage at sea.