The upcoming Naval firefighter SAFFIR will be tested on a decommissioned boat, but for other robot technologies, real-life simulations aren't so easy to replicate — so the US Navy built a training ground. The Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research in Washington, DC is a 50,000-square-foot building with designated areas designed to simulate everything from a Middle Eastern desert to the humid jungles of southeast Asia. One area, for instance, features a 2.5-foot deep sand pit complete with a fan that can whip up a sandstorm. The jungle habitat is 60 feet tall and includes real mango and jackfruit plants and simulated weather, and uses a sprinkler system to produce pouring rain. There are also spaces to test robots in water and in the air, and an outdoor section with waterfalls, ponds, and a forest.
These areas let the Navy see how experimental robots will operate under real-world conditions before they're actually sent out into the field. And right now there's a pretty eclectic bunch of bots in training — from an underwater drone that eschews propellors for dorsal fins, to a bat-like robot that can "see" via sonar. There's also Lucas (pictured) and his robotic sister Octavia, whose technology could eventually be integrated into a SAFFIR-like firefighter. The siblings feature an array of sensors that let them take in human commands and then determine the best course of action. Their bodies can indicate their status — for instance, a tilted head means the robot is thinking about what to do — and they can use speech to respond to people. And when a face like that talks, you'll definitely want to listen.