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Robotics The Military Technology

Robot Firefighter To Throw Extinguisher Grenades 78

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-a-big-step-from-throwing-actual-grenades dept.
S810 writes "Discovery News is running an article about the U.S. Navy developing a robot capable of 'throwing extinguisher grenades.' From the article: 'SAFFiR would need finger and hand coordination to wrestle fire hoses into place or accurately throw extinguisher grenades. It similarly would need the sure-footed balance of a veteran sailor's sea legs to confidently walk the wave-tossed decks of warships. An infrared camera could allow such a robot to see through smoke-filled hallways, and perhaps it could detect the location of fires through gas sensors. The robot's battery is intended to pack enough energy for half an hour of firefighting action.'"
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Robot Firefighter To Throw Extinguisher Grenades

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  • Sounds good (Score:5, Funny)

    by djdanlib (732853) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @04:49PM (#39293151) Homepage

    I want to see a warship manned with robots like that. Can you imagine how intimidating that would be, to see that in your scope? Send up the periscope, and all these robot heads swivel around to look directly at you.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Especially if they look like Creepers

      And explode...

      Actually, thinking about it, it's a good thing Notch doesn't work for the DoD.

    • by TheLink (130905)
      Not really. It just means fewer concerns over the loss of human lives if you sink the ship (shouldn't be too hard if you are already within periscope distance).

      It's only intimidating to people on-board who are being attacked by the robots (e.g. if some crazy nut has is using them to kill/hurt people on board).
  • maybe it's time for Bigdog to get his sea-...arms?
    • Re:robot (Score:5, Interesting)

      by SomePgmr (2021234) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @05:22PM (#39293583) Homepage

      Maybe there's a good reason, but I haven't been able to figure out why you wouldn't just use a little mortar tube for the grenade part. Like a potato gun without the pyro.

      Store a compressed air tank, bypass the complicated hand and arm movements, and skip the power requirements for that part... no?

      It just seems like sometimes we try too hard to make things humanoid when that might not be the best mechanical way to do a job.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        I would think that an arm capable of throwing a grenade of some sort would be the same arm that is capable of manipulating a standard fire hose. Single tool multiple use.

        • by GodInHell (258915)
          Sure but two simple tools will usually beat one complex tool. Particularly when the tools aren't self-healing and guided by a human intellect.
          • by hey! (33014)

            Sure but two simple tools will usually beat one complex tool. Particularly when the tools aren't self-healing and guided by a human intellect.

            Well, I suppose in part it's a matter of scale, where success is found on either end of the scale: the perfect tool for a single job is good, a crummy tool that can do two jobs is bad, but maybe a crummy tool that can do *ten* jobs is good again. Call it the Swiss Army Knife Principle. The Swiss army knife is a collection of truly crappy tools that add up to something pretty handy.

            A human arm and hand takes this principle further. It's amazingly versatile, but there's no one thing you can do with your bare

        • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

          by sexconker (1179573)

          I would think that an arm capable of throwing a grenade of some sort would be the same arm that is capable of manipulating a standard fire hose. Single tool multiple use.

          Kind of like how you can stick your dick in a pussy, mouth, or ass.
          Single tool multiple use.

        • by SomePgmr (2021234)

          From what the linked article (if you could call it that) said, I'd guess you're right and that was the idea on paper.

          Though again, I'd think there are better, simpler ways to deal with a fire hose if you're not trying to puzzle two discreet jobs together with one tool that isn't best at either.

          Either way, as a proof of concept that's meant to be somewhat practical, it'd be neat to see. And it should go without saying, but I'm not one of the robotics geniuses working on the project... I'm sure they've consi

        • by Ihmhi (1206036)

          An arm capable of throwing a fire-extinguishing grenade will also be capable of throwing a frag grenade.

      • Re:robot (Score:5, Insightful)

        by couchslug (175151) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @06:50PM (#39294853)

        There are many places where one could make use of a robot, for example near burning aircraft loaded with munitions.

        Watch some of the "Forrestal fire" videos where responding seaman are blown away and incinerated to see why the Navy is interested. Likewise, you could seal a compartment with a robot inside while it continued to fight a fire which would suffocate a human crew.

        • by SomePgmr (2021234)

          I wasn't suggesting that robots are a bad idea for firefighting. Just that we might, sometimes, go a little overboard trying to mimic human characteristics in robots when it's not the best solution to a problem.

      • Indeed, I'd have thought a hovering sphere of some description would be of more use, with its own supply of extinguishing grenades. Controlling a high pressure hose with such a robot might be a challenge, but no reason why you wouldn't have control systems adapted to that.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 08, 2012 @04:55PM (#39293245)

    "The robot's battery is intended to pack enough energy for half an hour of firefighting action." ... and then it explodes releasing toxic chemicals everywhere.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 08, 2012 @05:00PM (#39293303)

      Yep, I bet nobody designing and building a robot to fight fires would have considered the impact of heat on the battery pack.

      Because "high temperatures" wouldn't be part of the intended operating environment. At all.

      Once again, an armchair Slashdotter proves more intelligent than dozens of scientists and engineers who, of course, never would have thought of this as a potential concern or operating constraint!

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Of course they did, but assuming they did removes the humor. :) Not everything should be serious.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Dunno... The amount of water going through a firefighting hose operating at 100PSI has more than enough mass flow to power a turbine which could keep a robot going easily. That would knock out the half-hour problem. Of course this would require a hose coupling directly to such a robot.

        Yet I wouldn't drop the battery from the design completely though, something happens to the line pressure or needing to move the robot when not actively firefighting you're going to need backup power to maintain mobility.

        Heat

      • Once again, an armchair Slashdotter proves more intelligent than dozens of scientists and engineers who, of course, never would have thought of this as a potential concern or operating constraint!

        The joke is on you. This "fighting fires" with grenades sounds too good to be true. The real end goal is more likely to be about dropping robots behind enemy lines and have them throw grenades which are meant to kill people. In that regard, having the battery explode releasing toxic chemicals everywhere may just be icing on the cake for its original designers.

    • by couchslug (175151)

      As opposed to a human firefighter, who merely smells nasty when burning...

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's not going to have battery pack. It takes heat from the environment and convert it to energy to power itself. It powers down when the fire is out and no more energy left to consume.

  • Public reaction? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mws1066 (1057218) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @04:55PM (#39293249)
    I'm curious about how the public would really react to robots like this doing dangerous jobs - be it rescue robots, firefighting robots, or even the recently hotly-discussed automated (self-driving) cars. The first time one of these robots slips up and someone dies (or is left to die), public outcry will be swift and harsh.
    • Re:Public reaction? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Half-pint HAL (718102) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @05:01PM (#39293315)

      Compare to the auto-belay devices on many climbing walls. A couple of falls, the second fatal, got a worldwide recall of the most popular brand. They've been redesigned to get rid of the fault and they're back, but they will wear out with age. But even before the recall, they were (according to climber friends) statistically more reliable than a human holding a rope.

      So basically, they recalled a safety device that was more safe than a human, and replaced it with humans holding ropes, all in the name of safety.

      In short: you're quite right.

      • by Trinn (523103)

        I have to wonder what kind of deviation exists in the sample for human safety. It would seem to me from my limited toprope gym climbing experience that some humans are significantly safer than others, and in addition to that, a constant communication stream tends to also increase overall safety as well as response time, by binding attention to you. I would also add that unlike the mechanical auto-belay system (which I have used on a trip to Toronto), a human is (for what little it might be worth) capable

        • by guruevi (827432)

          You have a lot of faith in humanity, calling them capable of reacting intelligently to unexpected situations and all. Many humans don't know what to do in emergency situations, some just freeze, some freak out and flap their hands about.

  • Prior art (Score:5, Funny)

    by NoNonAlphaCharsHere (2201864) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @04:56PM (#39293255)
    My wife has been throwing wet blankets on everything for years.
  • That could make a great band name...
  • The robot's battery is intended to pack enough energy for half an hour of firefighting action.

    OK, I admit I have zero experience with fighting fires on ships ... But wouldn't you want a larger battery life in case it's a stubborn fire?

    I would think the last thing you'd want is all of the robots winding down just before the fire is out.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      Yeah, that would almost be as silly as building your killbots with a pre-set kill limit, so you could defeat them by sending wave after wave of your own men at them.

    • I would think the last thing you'd want is all of the robots winding down just before the fire is out.

      The simple solution would be to not send out all robots. If a fire breaks out in the mess hall you don't send 20 robots there to fight it. You send 5 first, maybe another 5 after 10 minutes, another 5 10 minutes later, etc. By the time you send the last wave the first couple waves are already back recharging (or getting their batteries replaced with fresh ones).

      • Better yet, just power them from the heat of the fire.
      • 20 robots?! You think the government will give 20 robots to any fire department? 1 and it would be an overkill already.
        • 20 robots?! You think the government will give 20 robots to any fire department?

          Like the "fire department" on a nuclear aircraft carrier? Yeah, I can see the government doing that.

    • If you don't control the fire in 30 min (so humans can get there), you already lost your ship.

      In fact, most of the humans with respiratory protection have a much smaller autonomy. Most kits come with 10 to 20 min, but I don't know what exactly ships buy.

  • by arcite (661011) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @05:04PM (#39293361)

    - non-lethal crowd control: tear gas grenade

    - parties (or impromptu parades): confetti grenade

    - stock market crashes/rises: ticker-tape grenade

    - religious ceremonies: dove of peace grenade

    - political conventions: t-shirt prize grenade

    - insurrection (regular explodey grenade)

    • by sexconker (1179573) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @06:42PM (#39294741)

      - non-lethal crowd control: tear gas grenade

      - parties (or impromptu parades): confetti grenade

      - stock market crashes/rises: ticker-tape grenade

      - religious ceremonies: dove of peace grenade

      - political conventions: t-shirt prize grenade

      - insurrection (regular explodey grenade)

      - Fighting off terrible rabbits: Holy Hand Grenade

  • Why do I feel like every year we come closer to Sky Net being a reality.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Is your name John Connor?

  • Replace that extinguisher grenades with grenades, TnT or anything explosive and voila, you got terminator version .01 alpha. Sorry had to say that lol
  • by Anubis IV (1279820) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @05:16PM (#39293527)

    It's all well and good to have an automated firefighter unit, but doesn't it make more sense to simply have better systems that are more passive?

    Couldn't you just have a robotic arm that's tied into the flame retardant system attached to the ceiling in important or dangerous rooms? Make it smart enough to detect fire, take aim, and spray it with a flame retardant. I'm sort of imagining the robot in the recent Iron Man films that does something similar. Seems like that could be done without the need for battery packs and ambulation, and not only would it be more ubiquitous, it'd be able to respond a hell of a lot faster than something that's traveling on foot throughout the ship, which would mean less time for the fire to cause damage.

    Granted, you can't just drop the sort of thing I'm talking about into a ship, since you'd need to pipe flame retardant into a few places it isn't already, but the cost of one of these ambulatory robotic firefighters has got to be ridiculous (assuming the R&D pans out anytime soon), so I wonder at what point it's more cost effective to just do something simpler with technology that we already have.

    • by icebrain (944107)

      Or we could use regular "dumb" sprinklers at a tiny fraction of the cost of automated robot arms and "smart" sensors in each compartment. Anything that renders these inoperative would have done in a "smart" robotic arm sprinkler already.

      • That thought occurred to me immediately after making the post. >_

        I think the benefit of an arm would be the ability to direct a more concentrated flow at something specific, but, as you pointed out, things that would render dumb sprinklers useless would likely render these smart ones useless as well, and the dumb ones cost significantly less.

    • by binkless (131541)

      I'm pretty sure that Navy ships have lots of passive firefighting features already.

      Fire in the confined spaces of a warship is a truly terrifying prospect, and the Navy is always looking for the latest in fire suppression technology.

    • by camperdave (969942) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @06:05PM (#39294179) Journal
      A bomb tearing through the deck can make a mess of a sprinkler system.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I'm a Navy Vet. Engine rooms already have retardant/water systems as well as HALON in case things get really ugly. There are still lots of places onboard where it is impractical to plumb and route firefighting water, and water is by no means the best solution. Modern warships have lots of electronics (CO2 is far superior for electrical fires), and being that its, you know, a ship, pumping copious amounts of water inside is never a good idea. Keep in mind as well that this is a warship, and since warfighting

      • by treeves (963993)

        HALON/CO2 no good on subs. Seawater piping with valves or sprinklers that open on their own also not a good idea. Fighting fires the old fashioned way with manual fire hoses is still the best.

    • Couldn't you just have a robotic arm that's tied into the flame retardant system attached to the ceiling in important or dangerous rooms?

      Well, on a warship - that's damn near every room. Even berthing compartments are often right next to places you don't want fire to spread to.

      Seems like that could be done without the need for battery packs and ambulation, and not only would it be more ubiquitous, it'd be able to respond a hell of a lot faster than something that's traveling on foot throughout the

  • by Anonymous Coward

    If you can make a robot to do all of those things while moving fast on a rolling ship, then you're pretty much in the world of tomorrow. If this is the focus of only a small group, I have to wonder if they've considered the scope of what they are trying to do.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    There are too many varibles in firefighting, it is my specialty and sadly we don't have the technology to replace us in the firefighting capacity. I can say this quite easily since over 90% calls are medical calls you go on as a firefighter, but there are a lot of other specialty things we do. Hazmat, rescues, vehicle extrication, etc, the actual fighting fires part is a such a small part of the job. And it's not like what you see on TV, you can't see whats in front of you, the floor may be weakened so you

    • What I saw on TV was Emergency! They dealt with snakebites, circus stunts gone wrong, car wrecks, beautiful women with their toes caught in the tub faucet, heart attacks, gunshot wounds; and, of course, fires.
    • Don't underestimate the bots. Do you really think computers are worse than people on a dark and unknown environemnt? It is only dark for you, with the right sensors, the robot can see everything. Do you really think robots have a problem with hazmat? It is cheap to make them imune. The same applies to a hight temperatures. they don't have to follow the same safety procedures as you.

      Now, of course, that robot is being conceived for fighting fires, thus it won't replace everything firefighters do. It is a spe

  • Riiight... (Score:5, Informative)

    by rabenja (919226) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @05:28PM (#39293655) Journal

    Having been in the Navy for 14 years and forgetting the ship-board obstacles such as steep ladders, water-tight doors with their high step-over and the like, imagine the Navy red tape involved in:

    • Training and Personal Qualification System (PQS) sign-off
    • Repair and maintenance contract
    • Salt water (most fires involve some attempted dousing involving sea water)
    • Salt water laden sea air

    I really cannot see this would be any help at all in a fire situation. Fires do not wait for robots. They are fast and furious. The fire drill is one of the most intense things that happens on a ship. There is no way that robot twiddle dum would get there on time with the robot operator having to maneuver it from cargo hold #3 to the engine room.... the ship could have been toast by that time.

    • by khallow (566160)

      There is no way that robot twiddle dum would get there on time with the robot operator having to maneuver it from cargo hold #3 to the engine room.... the ship could have been toast by that time.

      So how about if the robot is stored where it is needed?

      • by rabenja (919226)
        ...how many robots would be required? Where is there going to be a fire? Why not just have grenades planted in all likely places with heat-induced detonation?
      • Re:Riiight... (Score:4, Interesting)

        by electron sponge (1758814) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @09:59PM (#39296607)

        There is no way that robot twiddle dum would get there on time with the robot operator having to maneuver it from cargo hold #3 to the engine room.... the ship could have been toast by that time.

        So how about if the robot is stored where it is needed?

        Former Navy sailor and a former #1 nozzleman here. You can't possibly have enough robots to fight fires in all the places a fire could be unless you make the ship a giant firefighting robot. As cool as that sounds, it kind of detracts from the actual mission, which is to fight and win wars at sea. The ship's crew are ultimately much better equipped to defeat fires than some automaton because they have native human intelligence and can use spur of the moment logic to reassess a situation. A robot might see a hotspot in a puddle of burning fuel oil and concentrate on it, where a human would say "that'll put itself out and I need to concentrate on this jet of flame erupting from the gas turbine engine." Someday, maybe, robots will be able to assess a main space casualty the way a human could, but until that day comes the Navy should continue to rely on the very good judgement of its human firefighting teams. The US Navy trains every single sailor to be a firefighter, the way the Marines and Army train everyone to be a rifleman. Damage control is a religion among the seagoing set. It will be a very long time before a robot can replace a motivated sailor as the best means to save the ship. There are too many variables to leave it to code.

  • If you're making a robot to do some task, why over-complicate it? Traditional grenade launchers are just a tube and a trigger, they make special grenades to fit in it. Whats the problem with fitting fire hoses with some kind of socket or just fit the robot with a clamp that fits the existing hoses?
  • by Jason Levine (196982) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @05:58PM (#39294105)

    Why am I thinking of the Holy Hand Grenade Monty Python quote, only slightly re-worded?

    And the Robot Lord spake, saying, "First shalt thou take out the Holy Pin. Then shalt thou count to three, no more, no less. Three shall be the number thou shalt count, and the number of the counting shall be three. Four shalt thou not count, neither count thou two, excepting that thou then proceed to three. Five is right out. Once the number three, being the third number, be reached, then lobbest thou thy Holy Extinguisher Grenade of Antioch towards thy fiery foe, who, being naughty in my sight, shall be snuffed.

  • by HangingChad (677530) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @06:52PM (#39294875) Homepage

    As a former volunteer firefighter if my old team gets a hold of anything that throws any kind of grenade, then no one will be able to light up a cigarette in the privacy of their own home without worrying about a fire grenade coming through the window.

    On a practical level the fire robot would have to be able to squeeze through narrow spaces, over furniture, and around debris. I can't think of many household fires I was in where a robot would have been much help. It would have fallen through the floor at a kitchen fire that burned through the floorboards, we had to crawl across the couch to get to the hallway. I can't see how a robot could do that. Not only would it have to manage stairs, it would have to be able to bound up stairs dragging a hose line.

    There's also deployment time. When the truck rolls up to a scene, we're ready to go in a few seconds after our boots hit the ground. I don't know how you could unpack a robot, boot it up and get it to the structure any faster than the entry and back up teams could pull the pre-connects. Might be handy in a brush fire, but again the terrain would be an issue.

    • I was thinking the same thing, as a current volunteer firefighter and techie I've thought about firefighting robots for years.

      There are some huge obstacles aside from the most obvious which is heat.

      - Terrain, as you said is a big one. I have been in a house with 2 feet of trash and laundry through the whole house. We could not see the floor while we were there. For humans it was a challenge, but for a robot it could make it impossible.

      - Strength - As you know shagging hose takes strength, and that comes a

  • Although, honestly, if they want to kill you, they've got much better stuff to do that job, but still, seems to me that in a pinch, an "extinguisher" grenade could still potentially be lethal, by sucking all the O2 out of the air in a closed space, for example?

  • 1. Wait for government refinement, speculation, manufacturing, and development 2. Becomes unclassified. 3. Blueprints available on the Internetz 4. Re purpose into a sexbot 5. Profit!!!!!

I'd rather just believe that it's done by little elves running around.

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