Navy Opens New Research Facility for Robotics

Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research will focus on innovations such as firefighting robots and unmanned underwater vehicles.

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Not to be outdone by robotics advancements at NASA and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Navy is planning to expand its own investment in autonomous systems and robotics with the opening of a new high-tech facility dedicated exclusively to this type of research.

The Naval Research Laboratory Friday opened the multidisciplinary Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) on its main site in Washington to support "cutting-edge research in robotics and autonomous systems of interest to the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Department of Defense (DOD)," according to a White House blog post by the new lab's director, Alan C. Schulz.

The move also promotes President Obama's National Robotics Initiative, an effort by multiple agencies to develop robots to collaborate with humans to solve problems in defense, space, health, and manufacturing industries, as well as to make the United States a worldwide leader in robotics development, he said.

[ Robotics makes strides across industries. See Roomba Maker Sets Sights On Telemedicine. ]

Technology that the Navy aims to explore and develop at the facility includes unmanned underwater vehicles, autonomous firefighting robots, and sensor networks, according to Schulz. LASR boasts some of the most state-of-the-art technology for embarking on this type of research, he said, including the world's largest space for real-time motion capture. This will improve naval researchers' ability to test and control the motion of autonomous air and ground vehicles as well as to track and monitor the movements of humans interacting with them, Schulz said.

The facility also features electrical and machine shops that will allow researchers to "print" parts directly from electronic drawings, he said.

LASR also has a number of other test environments that researchers can use to experiment with the systems they're building, including simulated desert and tropical terrain environments, and a deep pool for working with submersibles, according to an interview with Schulz on the DOD's website.

The new facility also has specialized laboratories for testing human-robot interactions, sensors, and power and energy, he added.

The feds have enjoyed a number of recent achievements in robotics as part of the administration's particular interest in development of the technology. A four-legged robot called Cheetah, developed with DARPA funding and research, recently broke the land-speed record, and NASA sent the first humanoid robot--Robonaut 2 (R2)--into space last year. In fact, R2 is now even tweeting from its new home aboard the International Space Station.

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