NEWS | Aug. 3, 2012

NRL Scientist Builds Model of LASR Facility: One LEGO at a Time

By Donna McKinney

For his day time job, William Adams works in the Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence at the Naval Research Laboratory, supporting research in human-robot interaction, sensing, and autonomy. He manages the resources of the Center's robot lab, and keeps the Center's Mobile, Dexterous, Social (MDS) robots - Octavia, Isaac, and Lucas - operating and configured to meet research needs.

It was in April of 2012 that NRL opened the brand-new Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research facility. The building and opening of that one-of-a-kind facility sparked an idea in William's mind that led to a LEGO model. For those of us who enjoyed simple LEGO projects as children or with our children, the scope of this project is beyond our imagination.

Here's how William describes the project:

How long did it take you to build the LEGO model of LASR?

It took approximately 120 hours, working a few evenings a week, over the course of 3 months. It also took seven trips to the three local Lego stores to buy additional bricks.

Do you know how many pieces are used in the model?

It wasn't practical to keep an accurate tally during construction, but I have made a rather detailed post-construction estimate of 13,400 pieces.

Tell us about the details from inside some of the LASR rooms. Were you able to build all of the actual LASR environments in your LEGO model?

Limitations on time and brick (the community's collective term for LEGO pieces) prevented a complete interior, but I tried to represent most of the spaces. The Reconfigurable Prototyping High Bay, Littoral High Bay, Desert High Bay, Tropical High Bay, Power and Energy Lab, two Human-System Interaction Labs, the Machine Shop, Electrical Shop, and changing room all have full interiors.

What sparked the idea for you to attempt making this model?

LEGO recently released a line of architectural kits, all in a very small scale. I had some aging LEGO models in my office that needed replacing and figured that I could build a model of the LASR building. Then I thought about the larger models sometimes seen on display and decided to build it larger for the opening of the LASR facility (a deadline which I ended up missing). Building to a larger scale, approximately 1:60, allowed for detailed interiors while keeping it slightly under LEGO figure (minifig) scale, approximately 1:48, cut the brick demands in half and kept it transportable.

Have you built other models of this scale and complexity?

Not really. When we were kids my siblings and I would build custom castles on the dining room table and lay siege, according to a well thought out set of rules inspired by various board games. My brother and I built a model of the National Cathedral that rose with different color strata as we exhausted our brick supply of each. Several years ago I built a set of detailed models with the theme of a medieval shipyard, each showing a particular trade or technology, but those models were much smaller and could have all fit within the LASR model's large high bay.

Where is the model located now? Will you keep it as a permanent model?

The model is on display in the front area of the LASR facility, where it will stay until either the LASR Director needs the space, or I need the brick for recycling into a new model. It will probably be there through the holidays this year.

How and when did you start working with LEGOS?

I remember a pre-existing butter-tub of LEGOS from way back. Things really got moving when I was 5, in 1975, and my father took us to the toy store and bought us the moon landing kit; that's #565 for the AFOLs. Since it kept us kids occupied, LEGO became standard fare for birthday and Christmas presents. After a high school and college hiatus, I picked up the habit again, although now we kids never really get the time to build together.
(Editor's note: AFOL refers to Adult Fan of LEGO and describes those adult hobbyists who build or collect LEGO.)

Have you started a new LEGO project yet?

I don't have any specific plans for another LEGO project. I'll be adding to the LASR model to keep it up to date and keep it interesting.

We look forward to seeing the updates on the LASR model ... or William's next big LEGO project.