(Left) Captain Paul Stewart with an Asending Technologies Pelican quadrotor and "lucas" a mobile social robot (Right) the LASR facility building (via U.S. Naval Research Laboratory)
After two years of construction, the US Navy has opened its doors to their new Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) center. The facility will serve as the Navy’s primary laboratory for intelligent autonomous systems (robots), sensor systems, UAV’s and a host of other studies in multiple fields for future defense technology. The $17 million dollar building located in Washington DC contains multiple spaces for some of the more interesting labs that include a prototyping high-bay designed for testing both air and ground unmanned vehicles and features the world’s largest motion-capture system that allows scientists to collect accurate detailed data concerning said vehicles. There’s a littoral high-bay lab which contains a 45ft X 25ft pool that’s 5.5ft deep that features a wave-generator for water-borne unmanned vehicle testing in both calm and choppy simulated sea conditions. Another area contains a desert high-bay that has 18ft-high rock walls with a 40ft X 14ft area of sand that’s 2.5ft deep to test robots and sensors in an arid environment. Other environmental labs include the tropical high-bay which allows for testing systems in a greenhouse setting akin to southeast Asia, as well as an outdoor test range simulating a highland forest complete with waterfalls, streams and increasingly difficult terrain. There really is no area found on earth (besides the arctic regions) that the LASR hasn’t simulated for testing of all these systems.
(Left) Desert High-Bay with an 18-foot rock wall (Right) Tropical High-Bay simulating southeast asian rain forests (via U.S. Naval Research Laboratory)
The facility also contains various machine and electrical shops for all the labs as well as conference spaces for get-togethers to discuss wind-falls or complete disasters. Testing autonomous systems is nothing new to the Navy as the NRL (Naval Research Laboratory) has been testing these platforms since 1923 with the development of an electric dog that was controlled by a system of relays and a flight-control stick found in airplanes at the time. Other notable research done by the NRL includes remote-controlled battle ships in the 1930’s which were operated through selector switches based on teletype systems that used Baudot code. There were even anti-aircraft target drones that could be remote-controlled by people on other aircraft at distances of up to 25 miles away designed for a more realistic target for AA training. These testing platforms and developments created over the first half of the twentieth century eventually led to the development of guidance systems for missiles, like the sub-launched Polaris ballistic nuclear missile. With the Navy’s new LASR facility finally open it will be interesting to see what new developments come out of the first half of the current century. Can anyone say ‘Skynet’?
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