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NEWS | March 16, 2012

Naval Research Laboratory Opens Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research

By Donna McKinney

The Naval Research Laboratory announces the opening of its Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR). The LASR facility will integrate science and technology components into research prototype systems and will become the nerve center for basic research that supports autonomous systems research for the Navy and Marine Corps. The ribbon cutting ceremony was held on March 16, 2012, for this new laboratory, located at NRL Washington, D.C.

RADM Matthew Klunder, Chief of Naval Research, introduced the guest speaker at the event, Dr. John Holdren, Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

The LASR capitalizes on the broad multidisciplinary character of NRL, bringing together scientists and engineers from diverse backgrounds to tackle common challenges in autonomy research at the intersection of their respective fields. Research in unmanned and autonomous systems research is not new — NRL has been conducting innovative work in these fields since 1923. The objective of the LASR is to enable continued Navy and Department of Defense scientific leadership in autonomy and to identify opportunities for advances in future defense technology.

NRL broke ground on the LASR facility on April 8, 2010. This one-of-a-kind laboratory provides specialized facilities to support highly innovative research in intelligent autonomy, sensor systems, power and energy systems, human-system interaction, networking and communications, and platforms. LASR will support a broad range of research related to autonomous systems, from basic, to applied, and for integration across different disciplines. Some of its unique features include:
  • Prototyping High Bay, which can be used for small autonomous air and ground vehicles, and the people who work with them. This space contains the world's largest real-time motion capture volume, allowing scientists to get extremely accurate ground truth of the motion of vehicles and people, as well as allowing closed loop control of systems.
  • 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, which contains a 40-foot by 14-foot area of sand 2.5-feet deep, and contains 18-foot-high rock walls that allow testing of robots and sensors in a desert-like environment.
  • Tropical High Bay, which is a 60-foot by 40-foot greenhouse that contains a re-creation of a southeast Asian rain forest.
  • Outdoor test range, which is a 1/3rd acre highland forest with a waterfalls, stream and pond, and terrain of differing difficulty including large boulder structures and earthen berms.
  • Electrical and machine shops, which allow prototypes to be constructed. The facility includes several types of 3D prototyping machines allowing parts to be directly created from CAD drawings. LASR also has a dedicated sensor lab that includes large environmental and altitude chambers and an anechoic chamber, as well as a power and energy lab.
Alan Schultz, who is the Director of NRL's Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence, has been selected as the first Director of NRL's LASR. Darrell King, who has previously worked as the Facilities Manager at NRL's Institute for Nanoscience, is the Facilities Manager at the LASR.

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