A new facility allows scientists to test innovations
for autonomous and unmanned systems.
A new manmade realm allows robots to learn how to scale sheer cliff walls, go from the ocean to the beach or cross hot, burning desert sands. In this environment, researchers can examine the machines’ every move and how they interact with human warfighters. And one day, these robots also may help save sailors’ lives at sea.
Whether it flies through the air, moves on the ground or swims in the sea, the U.S. Navy now has a laboratory dedicated to testing and development of technologies for the next generation of robotic devices. The Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) opened this spring on the campus of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) along the banks of the Potomac River in Washington, D.C. It is designed to be a venue for multidisciplinary research into autonomous and unmanned systems, and is available to NRL researchers, as well as industry and academic scientists. The commitment to build LASR is part of the Navy’s overall push to make robotic devices a part of the future maritime force. The 50,000-square-foot facility was built at a cost of $18 million, says Alan Schultz, director of LASR and director of the Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence. Currently, LASR is home to Schultz and only four permanent staffers. But, he explains, LASR is designed to be a bridge between researchers in other NRL divisions doing what he describes as “bench science,” and the Navy’s fleet, where shipboard prototypes are built and tested to determine if they meet the needs of warfighters.