What do you do when your budget is slashed, but you still need to test out weapons of the future for fighting across deserts and jungles? Build your own desert and jungle. Artificial sandstorms and monsoons? Check.
Inside the Navy's super-teched-out, $17 million Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (that's LASR, to you), foreign battlefields are miniaturized. The lab's Desert High Bay features specially-acquired sand to replicate an Afghani IED disposal—robot arms that will perhaps save lives in war's future participants. The super-flexible, explosive grappling and shoveling arm seen here is controlled PlayStation-style via remote operator, who's able to put the cyborg-grabber through the same rigors of the real desert. The one not inside a 50,000 square foot building in Washington, DC.
The Desert High Bay can switch itself into a convincing nighttime mode, use enormous blowers to cook up an on-demand sandstorm, and provide perfect indoor GPS access, and sports a near-perfect approximation of a natural rock formation that prototype robots will soon climb across.
Meanwhile, in the Tropical High Bay, equipment is put through a trial by water—lots of it. We were uncomfortably sweaty as soon as we walked in—as you should be in the jungle. The fake tropics can simulate a monsoon downpour of 6 inches per hour, is full of quicksand, and hosts entirely genuine flora and fauna of Southeast Asia. The Navy has already brought in bugs that eat other bugs to knock out invasive species—no pesticides allowed. The only artificial killing allowed is what'll be done by soldiers when they reap the rewards of a nature-authentic testing ground. The Navy says this lab is the cheapest, most efficient way to put experimental gear through the wringer before it's moved on to the next step—and though the military is known for pretty much everything but frugality and efficiency, this lab has got to be easier on your tax buck than flying hardware out into the wilderness.
Video shot by Nicko Margolies