Meet Lucas and Octavia, the Navy’s latest prototype damage control autonomous robots, who are designed to one day work side by side with naval personnel and Marines to combat fires within the tight confines of a ship. At present Lucas and Octavia may not move quite fast enough to assist in a legitimate emergency — their lower halves are concocted of modified Segways — but their ability to understand, interpret and respond to human speech and gestures is thoroughly remarkable (though also a bit creepy).
The robots have been developed by the Navy’s new DARPA-funded Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR). In addition to the development of fire-fighting robots, the researchers hope to work on technology which will, broadly speaking, “provide future sailors and Marines with better tools to do their jobs,” in a new 50,000 sq ft, $17.7 million facility which houses “all the environments our sailors and Marines could face,” as Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research explained to reporters from AOL. AOL speculates that LASR’s research also fits “nicely with the new national strategic directive that focuses the U.S. military’s efforts on the Asia-Pacific region and the “anti-access, area-denial threat.”
As for Lucas and Octavia, the autonomous robots appear to be equipped with the most basic means to put out a fire. But it’s their capacity to critically understand human gestures and speech which makes LASR’s technology remarkable. The robots are “meant to process the incomplete, contradictory or incorrect information that we humans spew every day” according to Wired. When presented with such contradictory information, the robots possess the ability to, through their rather eerily infantile faces, express confusion, and then relief when such contradictory instructions are either corrected by humans, or deduce the correct solution to a problem on their own — ie., locate the fire themselves with the use of infrared cameras.
Navy Research Labs appear to have been at work on a separate firefighting robot for some time now. SAFFiR, the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot, reportedly developed in collaboration with Virginia Tech, solves some of the physical challenges which the expressive and responsive Lucas and Octavia lack. Equipped to hold its balance on board a ship, SAFFiR is “a humanoid robot [that] should be able to maneuver well in the narrow passages and ladderways that are unique to a ship and challenging for most older, simpler robots to navigate,” according to the NRL in addition to similar goals of “being designed to move autonomously throughout the ship, interact with people, and fight fires, handling many of the dangerous firefighting tasks that are normally performed by humans.”
Images Screen Capture from Video: “Damage Control Systems for the 21st Century, Shoulder-to-Shoulder Operations”