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Humanoid Robot Fights Fires on Ships
6/1/2012

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Beth Stackpole
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Balancing act
Beth Stackpole   6/1/2012 7:38:00 AM
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I imagine the balance piece is one of the more critical design points for this humanoid fire fighter given that many of this ships could be way out at sea and subject to all kinds of weather. Great idea, though, and a welcome set of hands on deck if such a disaster were to take place.

naperlou
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Re: Balancing act
naperlou   6/1/2012 9:47:12 AM
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Beth, I expect that a well trained human could do fairly well, but a robot can be programmed to react much faster.  With appropriate sensors the robot could also have some advance notice of events and plan accordingly.  This could be an interesting evolution.

G Cabrera
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Re: Balancing act
G Cabrera   6/1/2012 1:13:00 PM
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These things would be awsome! Anyone who has been on ships know the risks of getting caught in the confined areas of the engine rooms in the event of fires. And usually it would be poisonous smokes resulting from the fires that are more of a danger to human firefighters in these cases.

This is a good step toward ship fire prevention...only...if they did not make it look like the homocidal robot Hector from that 1980 movie 'Saturn 3'. I would be totally on board with this. That robot kinda creeps me out.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Balancing act
Rob Spiegel   6/1/2012 4:51:29 PM
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I agree it is creepy looking. But more and more, we're seeing robots developed to go into dangerous places for surveillance, as well as search and rescue. These developments could save countless human lives.

Charles Murray
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Re: Balancing act
Charles Murray   6/1/2012 5:47:28 PM
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I agree, Rob. Here, we have a great application for robots -- doing tasks that are just plain dangerous or that humans don't want to do. It's amazing to see how much "muscle" the new breed of robots is providing.  

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Balancing act
Rob Spiegel   6/4/2012 11:46:48 AM
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Yes it is impressive, Chuck. We're seeing more and more of these automated robots doing both dangerous work as well as repetitive work. The benefits of robots doing dangerous work is obvious -- saving human lives. The repetive work is also beneficial as it eliminates some of the soul-killing jobs such as tightening the same bolt 25 times per hour, eight hours per day, year in and year out.

GlennA
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Re: Balancing act
GlennA   6/4/2012 9:17:18 AM
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Rob Spiegel;  Saving lives is probably the driving justification for this.  There would be little concern about sending a robot into a situation that would be deadly for a human because the robot could be repaired, or replaced.  There are certainly more efficient mobile platforms, but a companionway or hatch could be too difficult for a non-humanoid design to navigate.  The tether may be necessary for power, and to send back video to an operator.

I don't recall the article stating if these were supposed to be autonomous or tele-robotic (remotely operated).

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Balancing act
Rob Spiegel   6/4/2012 11:56:43 AM
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I would think that remote operation would be a necessity with these robots. As for having a tether for a power supply, I would think that would add vulnerability as well as restricting movement to some degree.

GlennA
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Bang for the Buck ?
GlennA   6/4/2012 1:19:43 PM
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Rob Spiegel;  I agree that a tether could be a serious restriction.  But if the battery pack is only good for 1/2 hour or so, and it only carried 25 to 50 lbs or so of fire extinguisher, it is really worth the cost to develop ?  If this robot can drag a fire hose behind it, it should be able to drag a tether also.  Someone is doing the cost justification between an autonomous unit vs. a tethered tele-operated unit.  And they may decide to build both types for further evaluation, or for different applications.  Or they may continue with a tethered unit (as it is now) until the battery pack version is viable.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Bang for the Buck ?
Rob Spiegel   6/4/2012 1:38:45 PM
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That all makes sense, GlennA. I was just thinking the tether could get hung up in tricky environments. Yet, it would have the benefit of unlimited power. I would guess they can make tethers that wouldn't be adversely affected by fire and heat.

robatnorcross
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Re: Bang for the Buck ?
robatnorcross   6/4/2012 6:26:23 PM
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First: I suspect that the "Bucks" originate from some govt. agency like DOD.

Second: and more important. As someone who has been through Navy Shipboard firefighting training, there is NO way that a thing like this can be more than an obstacle for the humans (spelled sailors) that would have to "help" the thing. If you have ever been on a Navy ship the access to some spaces have "ladders" (the term the Navy uses for stairs. Others have ladders more like the kind you paint the outside of your house with (vertical).

On top of that once you get into an area there are hundreds of things you have to get around, underneath, on top of and behind.

I was involved in a real episode in which I had to climb up a weapons storage rack system that was about 20 feet high (with no ladder) to manually turn off a 12" water main to keep the thing from sinking at the pier.

This "project" sounds a lot like the DOD looking to spend money on something that has some sort of political slant.

Even the Honda robot which is truly an amazing piece of engineering couldn't even begin to get around inside a ship (hotel maybe) but not a ship I've seen.

Sorry for being such a wet rag.

GlennA
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Having to prove it won't work ?
GlennA   6/5/2012 9:14:35 AM
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RobAtNorcross;  Maybe this is a case of seeing what is or isn't possible.  Have you ever had problems trying to convince someone that something won't work ?  I thought Odex-1 was a great demonstration of mobile robotics, but it couldn't be autonomous because of processor and power limitations.  Sometimes you have to try and fail.  Maybe the result of this experiment will be the conclusion that the technology is not ready, yet.  Or they may scale back their expectations to what is possible as a remotely operated, tethered unit, for less dramatic jobs.  There seems to be a push to create the science fiction humanoid robots that are multi-functional, whether it is a realistic goal, or not.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Bang for the Buck ?
Rob Spiegel   6/5/2012 2:28:19 PM
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That's very enlightening, Robatnorcross. And it makes perfect sense. The DOD seems to be spending tons on advanced technology for surveillance and other uses (such as this robot). It could be that the ultimate value will come when the technology shifts to civilian use (as you suggested with the hotel reference).

notarboca
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Re: Bang for the Buck ?
notarboca   6/6/2012 2:52:10 AM
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robatnorcross,

I don't think you are being a wet rag at all.  Perhaps there will be straight-forward events that a firefighting robot can mitigate, but fire (as you well know and have experienced) is a dynamic issue.  Humans will always have some input into the the decision making and actions taken.  Reminds me a lot of Scott Carpenter's Aurora 7 mission where a pitch horizon malfunction left the astronaut to manually correct because ground didn't realize what the problem was.  There's a reason for the "man in the can"!

GuidoBee
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Re: Bang for the Buck ?
GuidoBee   6/6/2012 6:04:51 PM
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For some aspects of fighting fires on ships, the robot is great.  One of the first things that happens in a confined space fire is to turn off the air going in and (turn on exhaust) vent the smoke (going out).  This reduction in atmosphere slows the fire, but reduces the O2 / atmosphere: robots can do better than sailors when there is low O2 or toxic smoke: OBA's (like SCBA's) are short term and restrictive.  The issues mentioned of floors / decks that are not flat pose obstacles for getting around: knee knockers (and I, and most sailors, have the scars that go with them).  Lastly, the combination of ship's motion (pitch, roll, heave, etc.) and handling 1-1/2 or 2-1/2 inch hoses normally used to fight fires usually wear out teams of 3-5 or more sailors in a matter of minutes (require practiced rotation of nozzle-man, to avoid exhaustion) on each hose indicates the energy being dealt with by hose teams (think 150+ psi in fire mains on a ship). 

Things are a little different when you can use light water or PKP (chemical agent), in that the volumes / weights and push-back from the hose is reduced: all that is good, or better, anyway.  Halon is used in some cases, but is not a perfect solution, either: last guy out of the space fires that system and shuts the hatch.  Some Halons are toxic.  (It's been a while since my last USN cruise, so some things have probably changed, but ships' motion and the reality of a high pressure hose require balance and strength.) 

Robot is a great idea, but I think it will take some work to in confined spaces.  Smoke cuts visibility really fast; IR can help in this, otherwise you are working in the hot, in the dark, and in the (often toxic) smoke really fast. 

The balance is delicate and hard to deal with as the decks get wet and slippery.)  I'm all for the robot, but it's going to be a challenge to pull off.  Save one ship, one burned or dead sailor, though, and it would all be worth while.  Good luck.

CDR, USN, Ret

Mydesign
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Re: Bang for the Buck ?
Mydesign   6/7/2012 7:51:38 AM
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Notarboca, yes some sort of human interactions are required. Robots are programmable devices and it can only perform according to the keying or in built instructions. I mean logical thinking is very less, so under certain conditions, we have to control it from external.

Swanny
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Re: Bang for the Buck ?
Swanny   6/7/2012 4:22:44 PM
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Of course depending upon the cost per robot, you could 'station' one at each of its usable areas thus avoiding the various ladders and obstacles that would preclude it from access.

Mydesign
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Re: Balancing act
Mydesign   6/5/2012 3:31:58 AM
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Rob, even I think so. In most of the cases robots are using, where human interaction or presents are not possible. In such cases remote aces to device is very much required. Pre-programmable robots are not feasible always.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Balancing act
Rob Spiegel   6/5/2012 2:37:58 PM
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That makes sense, Mydesign. When you add in the comments by Robatnorcross, it seems you would need remote control every step of the way in order to move the robot through tricky environments. 

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Balancing act
Beth Stackpole   6/4/2012 8:30:44 AM
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@ G Cabrera: I have to admit, I feel the same way, but I held back from saying so. Seeing that robot come lumbering (or tearing) across the ship, depending on how the sensors program it to respond based on environmental conditions, might be enough to send ship mates overboard, retreating in fright--and not just from an onboard fire!

roddalitz
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Re: Balancing act
roddalitz   6/4/2012 9:50:44 AM
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With respect I must ask whether humanoid is the most effective design? Certainly Hughey from Silent Running was far more convincing than the Star Wars robots R2D2 and C3PIO. Two legs seems like a biological accident, whereas ants and spiders work fine in most environments without issues of balance.

G Cabrera
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Re: Balancing act
G Cabrera   6/4/2012 10:09:45 AM
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@roddalitz. I would tend to agree with your argument but in this case it was necessary to give the robot humanoid feet. Ships engine compartments have hatch doors that are raised from the ground. To step through would require bipedal action. In this case the design may not have been based on human hubris.  Though...if the robot is tethered how far can it go crossing that threshold. Hmm.

apresher
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Fighting Fires
apresher   6/1/2012 4:02:33 PM
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Deb, Very interesting application and use of motion technology. I would think the biggest challenge would be the software algorithms to control movement of the robot, especially to handle challenges like balancing. Thanks.

EngineerPhil
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Fire fighting robot
EngineerPhil   6/4/2012 10:53:04 AM
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 I expect the robot itself will have to be wrapped in some kind of protective skin to 

 preserve it's electronics and mechanisms from thermal and mechanical damage.

 Why not paint it yellow and make it resemble a fireman?

 That would remove a lot of the "killer robot" look.

 But seriously (maybe speaking as an engineer here!) The whole 'eerie valley' notion

 may be over emphasized. We have gotten used to talking electronics,

 TVs showing 'larger-than-lifesize' talking heads, and cars that park themselves.

 Why is a self motivated fire extinguisher so difficult to accept?

  It is far easier to rationalize a machine that saves lives, than say a fully

  autonomous Killer drone that resembles nothing remotely human.

 

     EngineerPhil

bobjengr
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Humanoid Robot Fights Fires on Ships
bobjengr   6/20/2012 6:36:30 PM
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 I think this is a fascinating use of robotic systems.  Well done Debora.  I do have one or two questions, as follows:

  • Are temperature sensors embedded into the superstructure that tell the operator (controller) when to pull the robot back?   When to retreat?  From the JPEG, it appears the wiring harnesses are exposed and certainly could be affected by heat.  I am sure other parts of the system have thermal limits of acceptability that must be addressed also. 
  • I may have missed it but, are there light systems on the robot structure that can "cut through the smoke" to illuminate a path?
  • Are magnetic "shoes" used to steady performance when the robot "walks"?  Of course those would be useless without a metal deck or flooring but could come in very handy on-board a Navy vessel.
  • I am assuming the system cannot climb stairs?  Is that correct?

This is obviously a work in progress but definitely fascinating.  The article is well done.

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