We hear about lots of robots that could potentially be used for "search and rescue" or "disaster relief," because that's kind of what you say when you've made a robot that doesn't have a commercial or military application but you still need to come up with some task that it might be useful for. It's much rarer that we see these robots actually performing search and rescue or disaster relief tasks, which is why it's especially nice to see this firefighting robot from UCSD doing something that firefighters would find immediately useful.
The UCSD robot is called FFR for "firefighting robot," although FLR for "fire locating robot" might be more technically correct. The robot uses a stereo camera and a thermal camera to generate 3D pointclouds with thermal overlays, allowing the robot to autonomously generate maps showing hot spots and humans even through smoke. The sensor hardware on board the robots doesn't look especially complex, meaning that the 'bots might ultimately become inexpensive (and replaceable) enough to deploy in swarms. So, instead of running around burning buildings looking for people, firefighters can just deploy a bunch of robots first, and rapidly build up a thermal map telling them where to go.
Incidentally, that nifty stair climbing system is something we first wrote about back in 2009, and it's great to see that it's been turned into something useful. Now, if they'd just give iFling some water balloons, it really could be a firefighting robot.
Also, can I just say that the logo of the UCSD Coordinated Robotics Lab, which apparently features a Swedish guy getting fed through a set of planetary gears, is just darn impressive in a kill-all-humans sort of way.
[ UCSD ]
Evan Ackerman is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, Automaton. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and emerging technology, covering conferences and events on every single continent except Antarctica (although he remains optimistic). In addition to Spectrum, Evan's work has appeared in a variety of other online publications including Gizmodo and Slate, and you may have heard him on NPR's Science Friday or the BBC World Service if you were listening at just the right time. Evan has an undergraduate degree in Martian geology, which he almost never gets to use, and still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In his spare time, he enjoys scuba diving, rehabilitating injured raptors, and playing bagpipes excellently.