Science and Technology News

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Navy Showcases Research and Development Programs at National Maker Faire

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Tim D. Godbee, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The U.S. Navy showcased new, innovative research and development programs during the inaugural National Maker Faire at the University of the District of Columbia, June 12-13.

Maker faires, held periodically around the world, are a technological nurturing ground for innovative thinkers and creators to showcase their talents and educate the public and one another.

At the faire, Navy engineers and scientists introduced to the public its newest technology for future fleet Sailors, which included Calculator Robots, a miniature underwater glider named SeaGlide, a 3D printed prosthetic hand, a milling machine, laser cutters and other creations.

The Navy's desire to continue inspiring Sailor innovation is the reason behind their latest effort: the Fab Lab, short for fabrication.

It's located in Norfolk, Virginia and part of the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center.

The Fab Lab is one of two DoD hubs funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop, explore, grow and harness a Sailor's knowledge and experience.

"When you allow something to start at the waterfront and grow from there, people begin to take ownership," said Capt. Frank Futcher, a member of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations Fleet Readiness and Readiness and Logistics (N4) staff. "As you take ownership of something, you take pride in it and you start to rethink how things could be done or made better."

Futcher went on to say that the fab labs aim to get away from more traditional Navy education and training and inspire self-learners to learn and apply new skills in the fleet.

Labs like these have existed in the past, but these are unique because you don't need a bachelor's or master's degree to come in and innovate," said Lt. Todd Coursey, assigned to the Mid-Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center in Norfolk. "Using advanced fabrication equipment, we're teaching the basics of computer-aided design/manufacturing (CAD/CAM) design to really heighten the deck plate Sailor's sense of complex mechanical systems."

Coursey added that all of the equipment in the lab is relatively inexpensive and includes laser cutters, vinyl cutters and 3D printers. The lab is intended to allow a Sailor with little engineering experience to see something that could be made better within his work space, design it and put it to work.

"The Navy is very technically oriented," said Futcher. "We tend to want people who can use and are comfortable with technology. We're interested in ensuring that the future of our Navy is proficient in science, technology, engineering and math."

Coursey and Futcher both expressed excitement and optimism in the direction that Navy research and development is heading.

"An 18 year-old Sailor with very little background can now walk into an innovation lab and, with a little bit of assistance, can create something," said Coursey. "They can turn what's in their mind, or what they think is needed in the fleet into something that's real. That, to me, is empowering.

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