Norco, Calif. —
An innovative idea making naval gunnery ranges more efficient almost got torpedoed at the door of the Pentagon when Naval Surface Warfare Center, Corona Division engineers Gary Lunt and Michael Yeh encountered some skeptical security guards who thought they could be carrying something sinister.
The conversation at the checkpoint went something like this: A drone? Here at the Pentagon? Listen buddy, that propeller blade could cut somebody.
The 9/11 attack has made entry more complicated into the complex where good ideas sometimes find sources of funding and a place in the DoD inventory.
Performance Assessment Department’s Lunt and Yeh at the Pentagon explained they were attending the Naval Innovative Science and Engineering Expo and were invited along with many other Navy engineers and scientists to showcase the latest naval technology and research April 21. The suspicious-looking display, when assembled, was Lunt’s Aerial Based Cycloptic Scoring System – CYCLOPS – that uses an unmanned drone to hover over a large ball-like target floating in the ocean. Now awaiting a patent, the system uses the drone to record hits and misses and relays the information back for assessment and analysis. It could be a game changer for gunnery ranges where Corona engineers provide the analysis for the Fleet.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, along with Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert B. Neller and Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michelle Howard, were among the notables walking up and down the corridors checking out the displays.
A key part of the display was a video created by PA programmer Eric Morales who went back to college to learn how to make a realistic color video that, within minutes, easily conveys the entire drone gunnery concept in a gaming environment.
“We stood there for six hours giving a 30-second overview,” Lunt said. “We met a lot of contacts,” said the veteran engineer and analyst who already has another patent. A California State Polytechnic Institute, Pomona, graduate, Lunt got a law degree before joining PA in 1994.
Lunt said Yeh’s contributions to the project are invaluable. “For example, the customized telemetry stream that forms the basis of our scoring calculations was designed and built by him. Moreover, the laser altimeter and its interface to the telemetry stream is his software and design.” And he built the large drone being tested.
For Yeh, the experience was almost overwhelming for a young engineer who began working at Corona two years ago and continues work on his Ph.D. Yeh is Lunt’s robotics assistant who developed the software for the drone that controls telemetry, communications and navigation, and sends out positioning data for analysis. The electrical engineer, an award-winning collegiate robotics coach, is also a pretty proficient drone pilot who plays around in his garage with his own aerial creations.
“I feel really privileged. I feel so privileged to showcase our products,” said Yeh. “Standing next to me was a Ph.D from Berkeley. This was pretty overwhelming. I’ll probably never see the Secretary of the Navy again,” he said. He is thankful that his Branch Head Sakina Marvi was patient and supportive as he prepared for NISE Expo, and fellow engineers who picked up the slack as he worked.
Yeh said CYCLOPS, for which Lunt created the acronym of the mythological one-eyed monster, provides a tremendous collaboration of three Corona departments: PA, Range Systems Engineering and Measurement Science and Engineering Department.
Morales said he also was privileged to participate although he could not attend the NISE Expo. However, his video was a big hit.
“It’s a little game simulation,” said Morales, a University of California, Riverside graduate who has worked at Corona 10 years. “When you explain something, sometimes it’s easier to actually see it in a video. ‘Oh, OK, that’s how it works.’ It’s like a game.”
Morales, who says he could be described as a “gamer,” took courses on game development and believes what he learned could be used for creating similar videos that may help explain future Corona inventions and innovations.
“For me, this was a career first,” said Lunt. “To see the SECNAV, not many people do that. It was a tremendous feeling showing our project. Just unparalleled in my career. For Corona, I think it gave us exposure. This was good for our credibility.”
Lunt credits many engineers and scientists who have bolstered his research and helped from the outset.
For CYCLOPSS, Lunt said he got a lot of interest among key people who thought it was a good idea. “I know the concept will work,” he said. The key for the Navy is that CYCLOPS can be designed to be a portable unit that will save the Navy money it now spends on infrastructure to operate gunnery ranges.
He is optimistic that CYCLOPSS can be operational soon. “It works. And it’s going to be cheap.”
Those are the words that people in Pentagon love to hear.
Within the Pentagon and here at Corona, there are those who are thankful those suspicious security guards decided to let Lunt and Yeh inside.