Southside Automated Machines -- SAM Team

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Some History

FireSAM was created during the 2004-2005 school year, thanks to a $10,000 grant from Lemelson-MIT and support from local companies. He was designed to carry firefighting equipment up stairs, thereby freeing fiefighters from this exhausting task.

The inspiration for FireSAM came from images of firefighters trekking upstairs laden with firefighting following the Twin Towers on 9-11 attack. Indeed, later research by Mr. Rogers' AP Statistics class revealed that the number on cause of on the job firefighters death is stress and fatigue.

FireSAM made his debut at the 2005 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam showcase  where he spent two days on display and demonstrated his ability to climb stairs (see picture at left).

While there, he was in a presentation in which he amazed spectators by driving up the stairs through the crowd. However, FireSAM climbs stairs a little too fast for proper control. A commercialized version would need to be geared for a slower maximum speed.


Ooh, and he does what?

FireSAM is a prototype robot capable of climbing up stairs while carrying equipment for firefighters. A commercial version would enable firefighters to concentrate on putting the fire out and rescuing victims without all of the stress and strain of lugging heavy equipment upstairs. He has a powerful on-board computer to allow for further software development such as the inclusion of sensors and possibly limited AI (artificial intelligence). He also has a strobe light, which we thought was pretty cool.


What We Learned From FireSAM

FireSAM had plenty of power and the tri-wheel design was capable of climbing stairs. However, his lowest speed was too high and he tended to bounce on the stairs. At times this caused him to flip on his back. His original center of mass was located in the middle of FireSAM. Later research showed that locating the center of mass toward his front helped make him more stable on stairs.

Further R&D would be needed to make fireSAM a commercial reality, but he has clearly demonstrated that a stair climbing robot for firefighters is feasible.


FireSAM's Future?

At the moment, FireSAM has been decommissioned and faces an uncertain future due to a lack of funding and various hardware problems.

Sprockets were welded to his wheels leaving no room to refill FireSAM's pneumatic tires which have all gone flat. Of course, this could be fixed with new wheels but would cost $200+.

FireSAM was also originally geared for a speed of 5 mph--too fast for stability when stair climbing. Again, this could be remedied but would cost on the order of hundreds of dollars.

FireSAM's computer and control system are now also out of date and in need of replacement. However, this could be done for very little money by outfitting him with an Android phone and if he is returned to service, this will be one of his modifications.

Hopefully, FireSAM will be once again climbing stairs some time in the future but it may be a while.


FireSAM and his fire-fighting friend

FireSAM poses on the stairs with local firefighter and team advisor Randal Willis. Firefighter Willis has been an enthusiastic supporter of the FireSAM concept and is hoping to eventually see him on the back of his fire truck.

Surprisingly, of all the danger firefighters face, stress and fatigue is the number one cause of on-the-job deaths.



Original FireSAM Team

The original FireSAM team had about 30 student members, 3 adult sponsors, and a teacher, most of whom made the trip to MIT as shown in the group photo at right.


FireSAM was designed largely by students using CAD, various scale models and Lego robotics based prototypes (see picture below) . He was built at the school by students except for his drive shafts, wheel/sprocket assemblies, and tri-wheel plates. The triwheel plates were cut out using water jet equipment at Honeywell.

Mr. Rogers AP Physics Mechanics and E&M classes made the design calculations needed for sizing the motors and batteries later used in FireSAM. FireSAM was both a n extracurricular and classroom project that gave students real world experience in the innovation and engineering process.

FireSAM Mission Statement

  • To function as a test platform for new designs and developments leading to a commercially available stair climbing robot for firefighters.

  • To help young people get excited about potential careers in engineering,

  • To demonstrate basic principles taught in math and science classes.




This award of $10,000 enabled FireSAM to be built. Southside was one of thirteen schools nationally to be selected for this prestigious grant. FireSAM was a hit when displayed by students at the Lemelson-MIT 2005 Odyssey event.


2005 Innovation in Education Award
The SAM Team was honored for providing students with an outstanding opportunity to participate in the technological process of creating a real-world invention.



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Android Phone Donations
When your Android phone contract runs out and you want to upgrade, please consider donating the old one to us. To donate an Android contact Tom Rogers at We promise to put you donated phone to good use in both our computer science and physics our class rooms (see possible application at right).

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