The Office of Naval Research: Where sci-fi technology becomes reality


Just like something out of the X-Files or Star Trek the Office of Naval Research is developing laser weaponry, life-size robots, driverless boats and virtual reality training games. Join us at 1428 Elm as we check out some of this cool technology!

“Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation.” – Dean Kamen

LaWS-The Laser Weapons System

I remember watching Star Wars and Star Trek and dreaming of the day when lasers would be a reality. Well, since the 1950s the Office of Naval Research has been developing a weapons system that when implemented is just as cool as the FX in those films!

The Laser Weapons System (LaWS) is a prototype to be used onboard ships. According to ONR reports, in 2014, LaWS was used in tests in the Arabian Gulf. It was able to shoot down drones or (unmanned aerial vehicles “UAVs”) and surface targets on waves.

Here is a simulation of this system in action:


The Office of Naval Research- robot- U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams-Released

Robots were another futuristic element that fascinated me when I was a kid. Reading Asimov’s, I, Robot and watching Lost in Space and the Six Million Dollar Man just fueled the fire in me to learn about robotics as well as cyborg technology.

So, I read everything I could on the subjects. It seemed to me there was a great deal of capacity for good with these man-made machines but underlying and perhaps an irrational fear was also the propensity to use them for nefarious purposes.

Nowadays, that thought was definitely science-fiction. Robot technology surrounds us from Roombas that clean our houses to manufacturing assembly lines. The Navy has created the Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot or SAFFiR for short.

This life-size robot could one day save lives. When a ship is at sea, a slew of unexpected accidents could arise such as a fire or fires breaking out. Obviously, this could be a catastrophic event.

SAFFiR was designed to find and suppress extreme shipboard fires thus protecting the crew and keeping them out of harm’s way. It can also assist with inspections as well.

Another fine example of this type of technology was on display at Camp Pendleton last year. We can now use unmanned and autonomous vehicles. These drones and Multi-Utility Tactical Transport units are equipped with sensors to gather intelligence from all points sea, air and land.

Basically, these vehicles act as “scouts” per se approaching the shore to give a rundown on the situation so that the troops are prepared when they leave their vessels.


The Office of Naval Research – Autonomous – Courtesy of U.S. Navy photo by John F. Williams-Released

We all know that driverless cars are in the future. Like it or not, technology makes this capable. While it may not seem very practical in the private sector for the military it could be an invaluable asset.

The ONR has hardware and software that they implement on small unmanned craft. The technical name is Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing, or shortened to CARACaS.

CARACaS purpose is to approach ships that are encroaching and determine the threat as well as any other pertinent information. They can also deal with mine clearance, escorting and delivery of supplies.

Virtual Reality

The Office of Naval Research – Virtual Reality- Courtesy of US Navy photo by John F. Williams-Released

With the popularity of Virtual Reality gaming on the upswing, what used to be a convention in movies like Tron, Iron Man or television shows like Star Trek the Next Generation are quickly becoming commonplace.

The Navy is using the Battlespace Exploitation of Mixed Reality (BEMR) Lab which helps to train soldiers on how to operate in the future.

While all of this stuff sounds like something far down the line it really isn’t. The more advanced technology becomes, the more evolved we become to accommodate. For the Office of Naval Research, the future is NOW!

Next: The X-Files: Chris Carter gives his take on the secret UFO program

What do you think of these advancements? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section below. We want to hear from you.