Navy opens new robot research facility

The US Navy’s opened a new research lab that will become the hub for autonomous systems research.

The Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR), in Washington DC, will be used for testing everything from firefighting robots to unmanned underwater vehicles and sensor networks.

“The research done at LASR will work to reduce the time and cost needed to develop autonomous systems by allowing NRL’s scientists and engineers to test new technologies in realistic environments such as oceans, coasts, deserts, tropical rain forests, waterfalls, and rock walls,” says its new director Alan C Schultz.

One of the features of the new facility is  Prototyping High Bay, to be used for small autonomous air and ground vehicles. It contains the world’s largest real-time motion capture volume, allowing scientists to get extremely accurate ground observations of the motion of vehicles and people, as well as allowing closed loop control of systems.

Other simulation areas include Littoral High Bay, which features a 45-foot by 25-foot by 5.5-foot deep pool with a wave generator capable of producing directional waves, and a slope that allows littoral environments to be recreated.


Desert High Bay contains a 40-foot by 14-foot area of sand 2.5-feet deep, with 18-foot-high rock walls that allow testing of robots and sensors in a desert-like environment.


And Tropical High Bay is a 60-foot by 40-foot greenhouse that contains a recreation of a southeast Asian rain forest.


Meanwhile, outdoors, there’s a 1/3rd acre highland forest with a waterfalls, stream and pond, and terrain of differing difficulty including large boulder structures and earthen berms.


The facility also includes a number of electrical and machine shops, which allow prototypes to be constructed. These include several types of 3D prototyping machines, allowing parts to be directly created from CAD drawings. There’salso a dedicated sensor lab that includes large environmental and altitude chambers and an anechoic chamber, as well as a power and energy lab.

“LASR capitalizes on the broad multidisciplinary character of NRL, bringing together scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds to tackle common challenges in autonomy research,” says Schultz.

“Its objectives are to enable continued Navy and Department of Defense scientific leadership in autonomy and to identify opportunities for advances in future defense technology.”