Inside NRL’s Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research

Alan Schultz is the first Director of NRL's new Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research. (Photo: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory)

This Friday, the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) will open a new facility — the Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR), at its main site located in Washington, D.C.

LASR will provide specialized facilities to support highly innovative, multidisciplinary research in autonomous systems, including intelligent autonomy, sensor systems, power and energy systems, human-system interaction, networking and communications, and platforms. The objective of the Laboratory is to enable Navy and Department of Defense scientific leadership in this complex, emerging area and to identify opportunities for advances in future defense technology.

In advance of the opening, SPECTRA magazine got the inside scoop from Alan Schultz, Director, Autonomous Systems Research at NRL.

1. Tell us about the capabilities of the Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research?

The new facility has a number of high bay environments and laboratories with many unique features to support research in autonomous systems.

The Prototyping High Bay is 150′ x 75′ x 30′ high. This space can be used for small autonomous air vehicles, autonomous ground vehicles, and of course the people who will interact with them. The most unique feature of this space is a motion capture system, which will allow us to track up to 50 objects, and gather high accuracy ground truth data of all positions of these tracked objects at 120Hz. Our tracking system currently has the largest capture volume in existence. In addition, we have high-speed cameras on motorized pan/tilt heads which can be automatically cued by the motion capture system, allowing us to record video of specific targets.

Exterior view of the Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research, located at the Naval Research Laboratory, Washington, D.C. (Photo: U.S. Naval Research Laboratory)

The Littoral High Bay features a 45′ x 25′ x 5.5′ deep pool. This pool will have a 16-channel wave generator, allowing us to create directional waves. In addition, the far side of the pool will contain a structure allowing us to put a slope on that end of the pool. We will have materials such as sand, dirt and gravel that can then be put into the pool, allowing us to create surf-like conditions. The wave generator and slope mechanism can be removed with our overhead crane for those who need a constant depth and the full length of the pool. The Littoral High Bay will also have a variety of sediment tanks for testing sensors and energy harvesting devices.

The Desert High Bay contains a 40′ by 14′ area of sand 2-foot deep, and contains 18-foot high rock walls that allow testing of robots and sensors in a desert-like environment. We can introduce blowing sand, and can control the lighting in that environment.

The Tropical High Bay is a 60′ by 40′ greenhouse that contains a re-creation of a southeast Asian rain forest, with temperatures that average 80 degrees and 80 percent humidity year round. Rain events of up to 6 inches per hour can be generated, allowing us to test autonomous systems, sensors and communications in these harsh environments.

We have specialized laboratories for human-systems interaction, sensors, and power and energy. The four human-systems interaction labs overlook the Prototyping High Bay and can be used, as described earlier, as control rooms for human-subject experiments, or for development of autonomy software.

Who will work in LASR?

What types of research will be done in LASR?

How are NRL researchers uniquely positioned to take full advantage of a laboratory like LASR?

What do you see being accomplished using LASR?

Read the full interview for all the details!