WASHINGTON, May 19, 2017 —
Self-driving boats, helmets that send instant messages and aircraft systems that navigate an airplane when GPS fails were just a few of the dozens of new warfighter technologies the Defense Department showcased yesterday in the Pentagon courtyard during its second biennial Lab Day.
The event featured engineering teams from the Air Force, Army, Navy and defense-affiliated private firms, each of whom manned a booth and presented a new technical system it is developing on behalf of U.S. military operations across the globe.
An array of new self-driving vehicles were among this year’s displays. One of these was a small boat, the Port Improvement via Exigent Repair system, designed to enter a damaged harbor with cameras and sonar to gather data on the structures and water depth. Human operators can quickly devise a repair plan and restore the harbor not only in less time, but with less risk of injury to the human divers.
Safeguarding Divers’ Lives
“We can narrow down amounts of work a human dive team will have to do, and we’ll identify any possible dangers or hazards that the team might run into,” said Jonathan Marshall, a research engineer with the Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center, who developed the vessel.
An ERDC-built unmanned aerial vehicle was also at the event. Ricky Massaro, another ERDC engineer, said that the Army’s 101st Airborne Division had received a model and conducted successful aerial mapping flights with it. The aircraft has cameras optimized for viewing terrain, topography, and moving objects.
“It allows the soldiers to create their own maps,” he said.
Many aerial drones have similar camera functions. But Massaro said that this aircraft, unlike a conventional drone, does not require a human controller. Human operators enter a flight plan into its navigation system pre-flight, and it follows the route on its own, he said.
The Navy is also developing unmanned ground-based vehicles. And the Naval Air Canter Warcraft Division exhibited a vehicle that is designed to drive itself atop an aircraft carrier. The vehicle detects obstacles in its way and independently stops or maneuvers around them. It can also determine if it is too close to the deck’s edge and reverse course before falling overboard.
“An aircraft carrier is a very busy and very compact environment. A rover is going to need special capabilities to be ready for it,” said Kyle Hart, a NAWCAD engineer. As he spoke, the vehicle made circles around him and attendees and paused as soon as someone crossed its path.
Other exhibitors showcased breakthroughs in computer systems, including one computer chip that signifies a possibly major step toward true artificial intelligence. The chip, known as TrueNorth and developed by IBM with support from defense researchers, resembles the…