US Navy shows off its new LASR autonomous robot testing facility

All the fun of the desert and the rainforest from the (relative) comfort of home? Sign us up. That's the promise offered by the admittedly awesomely named Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (that's LASR, for you abbreviators out there), first announced last month. The robotics lab, housed in a $17.7 million building at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC, offers up around 50,000 square feet, a portion of which is aimed at reproducing some of the Earth's more extreme ecosystems to test out naval robotics. The facility is home to firefighting robots, swimming 'bots and hydrogen fuel cell-powered unmanned aircrafts, to name but a few.

The Naval Research Laboratory opened the doors of the massive facility up to members of the media today, and Engadget was on-hand along with a moderate sized gathering of fellow reporters. Included in the tour were two simulated environments. The Tropical High Bay is designed to mimic rainforest terrain, with flowing water, fog and climate controlled temperature and humidity. The Desert High Bay is a bit let complex in its environmental simulation, limited to a sand pit, rock way, and adjustable light, smoke and wind.

Meanwhile, an on-site indoor pool is used to challenge aquatic vehicles. Testers demonstrated the Pectoral Fin Swimmer – an autonomous bot inspired by the biological movements of fish, in order to access areas not reached by more traditional propel driven robots. Also on hand was Lucas, a Mobile, Dexterous, Social (MDS) humanoid robot [pictured above] with a Segway base. The laboratory demonstrated how the robot was capable of reasoning in a simulated firefighting scenario – and, equipped with an extinguisher, was capable of putting out a very real fire on the floor of the facility.

We'll have a more in-depth tour of the facility in the near future. In the meantime, check out a sneak-peek of what we saw in the gallery below.

Show full PR text

Navy's New Robotics Lab Will Speed Technology to the Total Force

ARLINGTON, Va.- Scientists based in the nation's capital are stepping into the desert and
rainforest to run experiments on autonomous systems without having to set foot outside the
Navy's new robotics laboratory, officials said April 2.

The Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR), located at the Naval Research
Laboratory (NRL) in Washington D.C., is the first addition to NRL's 130-acre campus in nearly
a decade. Encompassing approximately 50,000 square feet, LASR boasts facilities that reproduce
Earth's ecosystems, including a Tropical High Bay modeled after southeast Asian rainforests, a
Littoral High Bay that simulates near-shore waters and a Desert High Bay with a rock wall that
simulates a desert-like environment.

"It's the first time that we have, under a single roof, a laboratory that captures all the domains in
which our Sailors, Marines and fellow DOD service members operate," said Rear Adm. Matthew
Klunder, chief of naval research. "Advancing robotics and autonomy are top priorities for the
Office of Naval Research. We want to reduce the time it takes to deliver capability to our
warfighters performing critical missions. This innovative facility bridges the gap between
traditional laboratory research and in-the-field experimentation-saving us time and money."

The $17.7 million LASR building opened its doors to researchers on March 16. As the nerve
center for robotic systems research in the Department of Defense, LASR brings together
scientists and engineers from diverse fields to solve the nation's autonomy challenges.

"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," said Alan Schultz, director of LASR. "This
one-of-a-kind laboratory provides specialized facilities to support highly innovative research and
testing in intelligent autonomy, sensor systems, power and energy systems, human-system
interaction, networking and communications and platforms without leaving NRL."

Several multidisciplinary projects are already utilizing the lab's facilities to advance their
research, including Damage Control for the 21st Century-a program to develop firefighting
robots for use aboard Navy ships; Pectoral Fin Swimmer-an underwater robot; and hydrogen
fuel cell propulsion to power a small unmanned aircraft called Ion Tiger.

Officials expect the number of projects to grow as researchers register to use the facility.