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Wanted: Robot pitcher

Columnist

After Tuesday night’s 12-4 pummeling in St. Louis, the Washington Nationals pitching staff looks as though it may need some help if the team’s going to win the World Series.

And it turns out that the U.S. Naval Research 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.

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

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 will be able to throw PEAT (propelled extinguishing agent technology) grenades and be able to use hoses and fire extinguishers.

The Navy robot is a follow-on version of Virginia Tech’s CHARLI robot, which was developed by Virginia Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa). The lab’s founder and director, professor Dennis Hong, worked on CHARLI and is now working on ASH.

Robots can play sports, too. 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. You can watch the robot soccer stars at wapo.st/looprobot.)

When will ASH 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? One 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!

Go before you go

Attention, lame-duck members of Congress! You might be busy angling for that cushy private-sector job, packing up office mementos and Internet-shopping for new golf clubs, but there’s another task for your to-do list.

The window for you to travel on the taxpayer dime is closing, so if there’s an international landmark you’re itching to see, time’s a-wasting.

While some lame ducks have already taken advantage of the opportunity to travel, those whose terms are ending have less than a month to schedule and take that last jaunt.

Members of Congress — even those who are retiring (paging Sen. Joe Lieberman !) or who were defeated in their primaries (Sen. Dick Lugar ) — may still travel on publicly funded codels (congressional delegations) right up until the November election.

As usual, those wanting to take privately funded trips have to get permission ahead of time and show that the trip is connected to official business — which might be a tough sell when you’re headed for the door.

The House provides this guidance for privately funded trips: generally, fact-finding missions are a no-no (because what would one do with said facts upon return?), but travel to give speeches is considered kosher.

So pack the bags now — you can always pick out that new 9-iron when you get home.

Facts, schmacts

Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler was outraged early Tuesday morning by a column item that highlighted a “Dutch TV broadcast that pokes fun at President Obama’s penchant for complimenting foreign dignitaries by saying that their country “punches above its weight.”

The television fact checker in the hilarious video, Thomas Buch-Andersen, “was speaking Danish!” Kessler wrote in an e-mail. “That’s why he starts with the example of the Danish prime minister.”

Kessler knows Dutch when he hears it, since he comes from a distinguished family in the Netherlands. (Seems the fact-checker brotherhood is global.) In any event, our humble apologies to the Dutch, the Danish and everyone else who may have been slighted.

Well, he didn’t give us another Pinocchio. And, besides, at least we got the first letter of the country right.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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