Firefighting robots have been a hot topic recently, and the U.S. Navy seems particularly interested in getting shipboard robots to be able to help humans deal with flaming emergencies. They’ve already commissioned their own custom humanoid, but until that's ready to go, they’re teaching Octavia how to team up with humans to find (and extinguish) real fires.
The focus of this project is less about the actual fire extinguishing, and more about how Octavia interacts with a human partner to get to that point. She’s already a pro with a fancy Macaw Compressed Air Foam anti-fire cannon, but she has to learn how to track a person, identify them, understand what they say, understand any gestures they make, recognize a fire when she sees one, and then accurately and efficiently put it out. Not a simple process, to be sure, but she seems to have it down, and notice in this video how her facial expressions communicate what she's thinking to her human partner:
All of this, of course, assumes that the human part of the human-robot team is acting in a calm and logical manner, as opposed to running around screaming “FIRE!” We’re sort of wondering what Octavia would do if her human partner was on fire, and our suspicion is that we’re getting a first-person view of that exact situation in the last 15 seconds of the above video.
"Fighting Fires with Human Robot Teams," by E. Martinson, W. Lawson, S. Blisard, A. Harrison, and G. Trafton from the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, was presented today at the 2012 IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Vilamoura, Portugal.