WASHINGTON: I walked past a sandy desert, a littoral waterway and a steamy jungle and watched a human-like robot extinguish a shipboard fire, all in about an hour and without leaving town.
It was possible because the Navy has opened a new Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) on the grounds of the Naval Research Laboratory, just across the Anacostia River from downtown.
“This really is a one-of-a-kind laboratory that we expect will provide future sailors and Marines with better tools to do their jobs,” Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval Research, told reporters after the tour of LASR. “Under this one roof are all the environments our sailors and Marines could face,” Klunder said.
Klunder noted that the improved autonomous systems that will come out of the new facility fit 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.”
Although the admiral did not say it, that A2AD threat is poised primarily by China, although Iran is attempting to achieve similar capabilities in the Persian Gulf.
The 50,000 square foot facility cost about $17.7 million. But Klunder and the scientists who briefed reporters on their work all emphasized that LASR will allow them to conduct more extensive tests of prototype systems and concepts in the same building in which they develop them, reducing the need for expensive and time-consuming trips to test ranges around the country.
“This building will save the military a lot of money and we will be able to complete testing a lot faster,” said Glenn Henshaw, one of the seven PhDs who showed off their work.
The LASR team also showed off Lucas, a six-foot tall robot with an expressive face that responded with clear distress when he received conflicting instructions in a shipboard fire-fighting situation. Then Lucas brightened when the instructions were corrected and recommended the proper equipment to fight the fire.
Lucas’ partner, Octavia, then demonstrated the ability to follow oral commands and hand signals to find and extinguish a fire in a simulated shipboard space. Keep reading →