NAWCAD Lakehurst employee Kevin Larkins speaks during a meeting on shipboard robotics in Philadelphia

Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Lakehurst team member Kevin Larkins speaks during a meeting on the future of Shipboard Robotics. (U.S. Navy Photo)

Lakehurst team joins experts studying shipboard robotics technology

A group of experts from the military, academia, and industry came together in Philadelphia recently to discuss what role robots could someday play on military ships.  

A consortium of military organizations called the Liberty Tech Bridge, which includes Naval Surface Warfare Center, Philadelphia Division, Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific and Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) Lakehurst organized the Shipboard Robotics Technical Exchange on March 5. The Liberty Tech Bridge is one of the newest among 17 other regional groups nationwide coordinated by NavalX, working together to pool their resources and information.  

Dr. Nathaniel Goldfarb, a robotics engineer in NAWCAD Lakehurst's Robotics and Intelligent Systems Engineering (RISE) Lab, said the idea for the meeting came after talking to various people who were all working on the subject without knowing what others were doing in the field. 

"By talking to all these different people, I found out there was a lot of people working, while stakeholders working on shipboard robotics had no idea that so many people were working on it across the Navy, industry and academia," Goldfarb said. "If we had a better community, we could say, ‘okay, I'm working on this problem, but I have this, and I'm really good at solving it. But I'm not really great at this other problem. So maybe you can tackle that, and I tackle this, and maybe we can accelerate the timeline.’" 

What started with an invited guest list of around 30 people meeting at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard quickly grew to a much larger audience of nearly 60 participants all there with the goal of learning and sharing their ideas.   

One of the key focal points of the meeting was to identify a problem statement that all the participants could use as a North Star to move forward with their work. They also discussed why the research area is important, identified constraints of the problem, saw who the ideal customer would be for the technology, and looked at where the field is today.  

Goldfarb noted that each group brings unique capabilities to the project. For example, academia can often offer more personnel to a project with a combination of undergraduate and graduate students, while industry often has the funding needed to conduct large-scale research projects, and the military has easier access to ships for testing and more cutting-edge technology to use during testing. 

Participants also considered the possible uses of robots on ships, including repair work, firefighting and moving cargo items. All these areas present their own challenges, depending on the kind of robot and the technology currently available to develop the machines.  

Liberty Tech Bridge Co-Director Kevin Larkins said kicking off this collaborative effort is a big early step in a much larger effort.  

"I think we've established some relationships with some like-focused individuals. So, the dividends on that will likely be in the two-to-ten-year timeframe," Larkins said. "However, just making these relationships could solve problems tomorrow if they arise because now, we have better connective tissue and know who to talk to."  

Larkins said the team is working together to digest all the information they gathered before figuring out their next steps, including drafting a charter and, from there, a problem statement to work towards. Ideally, Larkins said he would like to see that problem statement used in a prize challenge to expedite the process of finding answers, hopefully within the fiscal year. 

"I think everybody kind of sees the light that we're epi-centering around something and nobody else is. "NAVALX is committed to connecting the warfighter and their local regions. So, there's still lots of relationships to build," he said.  

Looking forward, Goldfarb said he hopes this is just the first of many meetings where participants will become more familiar with each other and collaborate to advance the field faster than they would individually. 

"We need to continue these pipelines where the subject matter experts in this field can talk to other experts to solve their problems and get the resources they need," Goldfarb said. 



The RISE Lab from NAWCAD Lakehurst attended a recent meeting on Shipboard Robotics in Philadelphia

Team members from Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division Lakehurst attended a meeting in Philadelphia on March 5 to discuss the future of shipboard robotics. The employees included (from left) Kevin Larkins, Ryan O'Shea, Ari Goodman, Dr. Todd Morehouse, Kyle Hart, Tyler Comisky, Dr. Nathaniel Goldfarb, Harry Beals, and Robert Pellegrino. (U.S. Navy photo)

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