Navy's 'Hunger Games' lab will put robots to survival tests

The Navy Research Lab has opened a multiclimate test lab that is being compared to a “Hunger Games” environment for robots and autonomous vehicles.

The Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR) will be used to test prototype autonomous systems in settings ranging from deserts and rain forests to waterborne and airborne environments.

The lab’s test areas, or bays, includes one about half the size of a football field equipped with high-speed video cameras that can record up to 50 air vehicles, ground robots or human soldiers, according to InnovationNewsDaily, which compared the lab to a “Hunger Games” arena.

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The Hunger Games” is a 2008 young adult novel, soon to be released as a movie, in which large, naturalistic arenas are built for a reality TV show featuring a battle to the death by teenagers.

The Navy may not be looking to stage death matches in LASR, but the robots, aircraft and amphibious vehicles will be severely tested.

The rain forest bay, for example, can drop as much as 6 inches of rain per hour into an 80-degree environment with 80 percent humidity, InnovationNewsDaily reported. Or robots can try to navigate a desert climate with high winds, rock walls and a sand pit.

LASR is continuing research into unmanned and autonomous systems that the Navy has been doing since 1923, NLR said in a statement. The new lab will help support the military’s growing use of unmanned aerial vehicles, ground robots and other autonomous systems.

The lab, which was officially opened March 16 at NRL in Washington, D.C., features five specific test areas.

  • Prototyping High Bay, which is for small autonomous air and ground vehicles and the people who use them, has 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 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.
  • Tropical High Bay is a 60-foot by 40-foot greenhouse that contains a re-creation of a southeast Asian rain forest, complete with all that rain, heat and humidity.
  • The Outdoor Test Range is a one-third acre highland forest with a waterfalls, stream and pond, and terrain of differing difficulty including large boulder structures and earthen berms.

LASR also has electrical and machine shops where prototypes can be built. Among the tools available are 3-D prototyping machines that can make parts directly from computer-aided design drawings, a sensor lab with large environmental and altitude chambers, and a power and energy lab.



About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.


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