Of Machines And Men, And Fires And Fastballs By Al Kamen

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DeM Banter: now who doesn’t like C3PO in a Nats Cap…but still pondering what this looks like in a decade with no solid strategy or plan as we move forward with drones in the Air, under the Sea, and on the Ground…could just be me.

Washington Post
October 10, 2012
Pg. 19

In The Loop

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.

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!

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