STAFFORD, Va. –
After navigating halls filled with 3-D printers and advanced computing labs, Senior Topside Systems Engineer Robert Fowler came to a room of students eager to hear how virtual reality (VR) positively impacts the fleet’s mission.
“It’s important to spark interest in STEM and show young people what their role can be and how they can make a difference,” said Fowler. “I was really fortunate to have some influential people open my eyes when I was young, so I’m happy to get the chance to help students realize what their contribution can be.”
On Aug. 5, the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) engineer visited the Cyber Bytes Foundation’s “Build Your Own VR” summer camp in Stafford. During the camp’s weekly “lunch and learn” event, Fowler gave the campers aged 13-18 a glimpse into how VR is deployed to assist training, designing and modeling efforts that support the warfighter.
The event was a product of a newly established Education Partnership Agreement (EPA) between NSWCDD and the Cyber Bytes Foundation. Signed July 26, 2021, the EPA with the Cyber Bytes Foundation is one of the newest agreements established by NSWCDD. EPAs allow for NSWCDD to engage with education agencies, colleges, universities and nonprofit institutions that are dedicated to improving STEM education.
VR subject matter expertise coupled with a track record of research in technical areas involving surface naval warfare systems positioned NSWCDD to be an ideal contributor to the Cyber Bytes Foundation’s STEM initiatives.
Despite the agreement’s recent inception, the aptitude of the students and their relevant research interests – such as VR – allowed for immediate engagement following the agreement.
“We were excited that NSWCDD STEM Outreach was able to participate in recent Cyber Bytes Foundation summer camp for virtual reality,” said Kyle Lackinger, NSWCDD Director of Collaborative Innovation and Academic Engagement. “Through STEM outreach events like this, our scientists and engineers make these technology-centric skills more concrete by providing real-world examples of their application and utility. We look forward to continued engagement with Cyber Bytes Foundation and their students.”
After a brief introduction to topside engineering and his department’s day-to-day work, Fowler led a presentation that explored how VR can support the fleet by aiding in the design of new ships, modernizing existing vessels and modeling new capabilities.
Fowler also introduced the teens to the VR use cases that are already deployed such as virtual ship checks – an especially salient practice during COVID-19 protocols.
Directly following his presentation, Fowler opened the floor for questions and the teens happily seized the opportunity. Fowler said he was surprised at the level of insight the teens presented.
“They asked some really good questions,” Fowler stated. “I was glad to hear the questions that came up, especially those pertaining to how VR is going to be a game-changing capability for the Navy.”
With the implementation of novel technologies like VR, challenges in adoption are inevitable. One student asked how Fowler foresees the Navy might overcome aversion to adopting virtual reality for additional use cases.
He answered, “That’s one of the challenges we are hoping that you all – the next generation of Sailors – can help us solve.”