The Washington Post

Star Wars robot joins the Navy?

CHARLi-1 — the soccer playing robot (Dennis Hong)

And it turns out that the Naval Reaseach Laboratory, along with engineers and scientists at Virginia Tech and the University of Pennsylvania, is already working on something that might do the trick — though maybe not for this season.

The Navy is developing a version of C-3PO, the lovable “Star Wars” robot who appeared on the big screen 35 years ago, to fight shipboard fires.

The Navy robot’s name is Autonomous Shipboard Humanoid (ASH). It’s hoped
ASH will be able to walk in any direction, keep its balance at sea and go through narrow passageways and up ladders.

Naturally it’ll have all sorts of sensors and cameras and will be able to see through smoke — but maybe not through walls. And it will be able to respond to human gestures and hand signals.

What’s more, ASH would be able to throw PEAT (propelled extinguishing agent technology) grenades, and be able to use hoses and fire extinguishers.

The planned Navy robot is a follow-on version of Virginia Tech’s CHARLi-1 robot, which was developed by Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) founded and directed by Virginia Tech professor Dennis Hong.

And robots can play sports. Hong’s team won the RoboCup, or robot world soccer cup, in Istanbul last year. (This is a huge deal amongst folks in that field.)

When will it be ready?

“It is walking now and will start testing on a Navy ship early next year,” Hong said in an e-mail. “But that does not mean that it is complete — it still needs a lot of things done,” such as “protection against heat and flames . . . sensors, navigation, fire fighting behaviors” and so forth.

“It still has a long way to go until it can actually be deployed for fighting fires,” he said, “but it will one day.”

Well, in the meantime, how about a simpler robot that can throw a 110 mph curveball (preferably both right and left handed)? Doesn’t even have to be able to field or hit.

Put a Nats hat on him and we’re good to go!

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993.


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