The MacGyver Bot is able to use tools around it to complete tasks by making levers, for example. (Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech)
"The shooter's PDA" will help carrier flight decks go digital. (John F. Williams / Navy)
LightSpeed B22U binoculars could offer much-needed data during underway replenishments. (Lightspeed)
The Improved Advanced Watertight Door is already on some warships. (Courtesy of Penn State Applied Research Laboratory)
The brainiacs over at the Office of Naval Research recently touted their latest and greatest gadgets, unmanned equipment and ship improvements as part of the Science and Technology Partnership Conference and the American Society of Naval Engineers Expo held in October outside Washington, D.C.
Some of the inventions will turn sailors into better war fighters. Others will make it easier to handle the daily chores of life at sea.
Here's a preview of some of ONR's newest creations, before they hit the fleet:
Benefit to sailors: Using this software, a robot can use objects to complete tasks.
When you will get it: Researchers said it is too soon to predict when the software will be ready.
Developer: Georgia Tech College of Computing
Details: MacGyver the TV show character could use a toothpick and duct tape to get out of any situation. MacGyver the robot might also use simple tools — to save a sailor's life.
MacGyver software in development would allow a robot to use pipes, chairs, tables or any other objects to make simple tools like levers or bridges, according to Mike Stilman, lead researcher at Georgia Tech.
The software has been tested on that lab's humanoid robot, Golem Krang, but could some day be loaded onto any humanoid robot, according to Paul Bello, program officer of human and bioengineered systems.
On ships, the system will likely be used to help robots fight fires or wedge doors open in emergencies, Bello said. The ability to use tools could also help ground forces who become trapped under heavy rubble.
Stilman is at the beginning of a three-year contract with ONR, though it is not realistic to expect this system to be onboard ships within three years, Bello said.
The long-term goal is to include this capability in a suite of technologies, such as navigation and interaction with humans, to create the ultimate firefighting robot.
Catapult Capacity Selector Valve Calculator
Benefit to sailors: Ditch the paper charts used to plan catapult launches and go digital.
When you will get it: Uncertain.
Developer: Specialty Systems Inc.
Details: The Catapult Capacity Selector Valve Calculator is being dubbed "the shooter's PDA" for the convenience it brings to launching planes from aircraft carriers.
Instead of paging through binders, catapult launchers can input a few pieces of data into a rugged, waterproof device slightly larger than a graphing calculator, which will spit out the proper catapult power levels.
The device can toggle between the ship's catapults, select different aircraft and factor in variables such as windspeed and aircraft weight. Users can enter data with a stylus or by pushing the touchscreen, which responds well even if you're wearing gloves.
One catapult officer from the aircraft carrier Harry S. Truman, where the device was tested in January, said it adds clarity to setting up the launch and prevents information overload that occurred with the paper charts.
Benefit to sailors: In addition to being a source of electricity anytime and anywhere, the design of the pack reduces impact on joints.
When you will get it: Researchers could not predict. The backpack is being made more rugged for military use.
Developer: Lightning Packs
Details: The Suspended-Load Backpack can generate electricity while you move, while its suspension system reduces the chance of injury.
Your pack load stays in one place, even though you move up and down while running or walking. The load is attached to a separate load plate that goes against your back. While the load plate moves up and down with your body, the load in the pack is separate and stays in place.
The pack includes a generator that captures energy created by movement and stores it in a BB-2590 battery, the most common battery used to power radios, according to Shawn Carmody, the operational testing engineer at Lightning Packs and a former force reconnaissance Marine.
The backpack weighs roughly 4 pounds more than traditional packs when empty, Carmody said. However, sailors and Marines do not need to carry disposable batteries, which can add up to 20 pounds to already heavy packs.
The electricity created can be used to power global positioning systems, radios and anything else that uses a battery. If a sailor or Marine is injured and cannot walk, the backpack can also be pumped up and down while on the ground, creating instant electricity that can be used to call for help, according to Carmody.
The backpack is aimed toward SEALs and special operators who may be out on long missions without an opportunity to recharge, Carmody said.
The project is funded by ONR and recently received additional funding from the Army's Natick Soldier Systems Center, which is responsible for researching, developing and fielding soldier support items.
LightSpeed B22U binoculars
Benefit to sailors: These binoculars let you know how close you are to a nearby ship and if you are moving together or apart.
When you will get it: Makers say the Navy has expressed an interest, but a contract has not been signed.
Developer: Torrey Pines Logic Inc.
Details: In addition to functioning as normal binoculars, this set of specs measures how far apart ships are during underway replenishments. The binoculars also measure if the vessels are moving together or apart, and all information is displayed on a computer into which the binoculars are plugged, according to Russell Purcell, a program manager at Torrey Pines Logic Inc. This eliminates the need to heave lines between ships to measure the distance.
Using the binoculars will decrease manpower requirements and increase safety during underway replenishments.
The technology could be used any time secure communications were needed between surface, air and underwater vessels.
During an unrep, each ship would have a person standing on the bridge using the binoculars to look at the other ship. Sailors would communicate through any off-the-shelf headset with a microphone connected to the binoculars that allows for crisp communication, Purcell said.
He expects the project, which is funded by ONR, to be approved and available for the Navy to purchase by the end of calendar year 2012.
Sailor and Marine feedback has been positive, according to a fact sheet provided by the company; testers cited the binoculars' ease of use and reliability.
Stop-rotor Rotary Wing Aircraft
Benefit to sailors: Need to launch a long-range unmanned aircraft but don't have a runway? You're covered.
When you will get it: Unknown; it's still in development.
Developer: Naval Research Laboratory
Details: The pint-sized Stop-Rotor Rotary Wing Aircraft combines the convenience and versatility of a helicopter with the speed and range of an airplane.
The aircraft takes off with a two-blade spinning rotor, much like a helicopter. The conversion begins when the rotor stops perpendicular to the aircraft's body while half of the blade twists, turning it into a wing. The tail rotor used in the helicopter mode turns 90 degrees, turning it into a "pusher propeller" to move the plane forward.
The conversion process takes as little as one second; simulations predict the aircraft will lose about 50 feet of altitude in the process. A battery-powered prototype can fly for more than 30 minutes and top out at 100 knots. A hybrid-power system could provide greater range, the Naval Research Laboratory said.
When the flight's over, the aircraft can re-convert into a helicopter for landing, meaning no special recovery equipment would be required.
The Navy is being tight-lipped about this aircraft — it would not comment for this article nor provide details on the drone's conversion process. Most of the specs are only available in patent applications.
Improved Advanced Watertight Door
Benefit to sailors: Requires much less maintenance than standard watertight doors.
When you will get it: Some ships already have some, and researchers say they could go fleetwide by 2013.
Developer: Pennsylvania State University Applied Research Laboratory
Details: Watertight doors come standard on all Navy ships, but researchers say they've perfected a much lighter door that requires less maintenance.
The Improved Advanced Watertight Door designed by Penn State and funded by the ONR has only three moving parts — three dog latches around the outside of the door, compared to eight in standard doors — and requires minimal maintenance, according to Terri Merdes, research and design engineer at Penn State.
Two doors were installed and tested aboard the destroyer Porter, cruiser Monterey and amphibious assault ship Wasp in 2010. Two more doors were installed aboard Wasp in 2011. The doors on Porter and Monterey have required no major maintenance, and the doors on Wasp received modified handles to accommodate the high traffic of about 2,000 closures a day, Merdes said. All three ships have requested to keep the doors.
The recommended upkeep for these doors: Every six months, wipe the rubber seal and scrub the dirt from the bottom using sandpaper. The springs in old-model doors start to loosen after about a month and need to be replaced constantly, Merdes said. In addition to being low-maintenance, the door is also easier to open. The door weighs 213 pounds, 77 pounds less than traditional watertight doors. It can be closed with just a few fingers. The new door is made of stainless steel, while older doors are made of low-carbon steel, but a square honeycomblike hollow structure inside the door makes it even more lightweight. Merdes said she hopes to see the doors fleetwide by the end of next year.
The new door is 50 percent more expensive to purchase; however the total lifecycle costs of the new door are significantly lower and the price difference will make up, Merdes said.
Fast-Tint Protective Eyewear
Benefit to sailors: Switch between clear and tinted eye protection in less than a second.
When you will get it: Later this year, if you're a SEAL; additional fielding unknown.
Developer: Crane and AlphaMicron
Details: Fast-Tint Protective Eyewear offers ballistic eye protection with lenses that switch from tinted to clear and back with the flick of a button. It's designed to help SEALs on missions that span a variety of lighting conditions, but the technology could find its way into civilian stores, as well.
A retired SEAL's message to ONR's TechSolutions office sparked the product's development: "As a SEAL in Iraq ... either you wore clear-lens eye protection and squinted and dealt with the bright, sunny-day operations, or you wore dark-lens sunglasses and removed them upon initial entry into dimly lit houses, leaving your eyes unprotected."
The glasses look like regular wrap-around sunglasses, but with a slightly beefier frame. One side has a toggle that allows the wearer to click between gray, amber and blue tints and a clear mode. The other side has a battery and a micro-USB port so the glasses can be recharged. Liquid crystal display technology allows the lens to change color.
The glasses can hold a tint for about 40 hours before needing recharge, said Christine Martincic, a program manger at AlphaMicron, the company behind the tinting technology; that'll last a week or two for most users.
AlphaMicron has developed similar fast-tinting products for pilots, skiers and motorcyclists, but this is its first venture into glasses, Martincic said.