Lucas & Octavia are a pair of cognitive robots being developed to fight fires by the U.S. Navy’s Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR). I’m sure they’re working on more practical robots, but these have gotten the most press attention. The robots feature a hand-me-down head design from MIT’s Mobile Dexterous Social robot Nexi, which is unfortunate as Nexi’s repulsive features and dead eyes are rather unpleasant. As you’ll see in the laughable video presentation, a fire that can be put out in less than 5 seconds takes much longer because Octavia has to be guided through the entire process with verbal commands and gestures.
We love humanoid robots here at Plastic Pals, but we’ll admit when a different type of robot is more suited to the job. In this case, I don’t think there’s any doubt that verbal and gestural commands are too complicated and time-consuming in a dangerous situation. Judging by the video, the location of the fire must be known (and communicated to the robot) in advance. It’s questionable whether or not the robot would even be able to parse speech during a fire, what with alarms ringing and people shouting through oxygen masks.
Unlike the bipedal SAFFiR being developed at Virginia Tech RoMeLa, Octavia moves on wheels – so it can’t move up and down stairs or ladders. In that case, why not just send in a small tank-like robot equipped with a water hose that can be remotely operated from a distance? This robot (right photo) developed in South Korea has a powerful water cannon, a camera to work reconnaissance, and sensors that detect toxic gas. An arm attachment would allow it to open doors. It’s already being rolled out to fire departments, it’s probably safe to say it’s less expensive, and it seems hundreds of times more practical.