NexTech expo shows new technology

In spite of the seemingly insurmountable levels of debt challenging the federal government, many federal entities, especially the Defense Department and the space exploration agency, NASA, must use cutting-edge technology to succeed in their missions. This technology is created and pitched to the government by private contractors such as Lockheed Martin, which just recently brought some of its latest products to the Johnson Space Center in Houston for an event called NexTech.

A robot, called Sprockit, moved through the exhibit hall, providing entertainment to attendees and supplying directions to a variety of the more serious presentations. Paul Monday is an engineer for Lockheed Martin who assists with development of such systems. “When you turn your head, the view updates, too,” said Martin. “So it is a smooth view and it feels like you are looking at that world in Afghanistan.”

Monday said that the military is able to use this in medical screening: to identify physical problems without deploying a soldier to the real, much more dangerous terrain.

For Chris Spence, 26, who grew up playing video games, these creations are alluring. “Of course, there is work involved, but a platform like this makes it a lot of fun,” said Spence.

The system demonstrator for Lockheed Martin claimed this program is adaptable to a variety of training situations.

But these types of virtual reality experiences go beyond training, Pacale Rondot of Lockheed Martin’s Human Immersive Lab explained. “You see behind me this model who is driving an avatar in the virtual world,” said Rondot. “It is performing a task to validate maintenance of the aircraft.”

She suggested that this system assists engineers with probing for flaws in design before an aircraft is built. “We are reducing the overall cost of our product by making sure we are doing things right, right at the beginning, before we start cutting any metal,” she said.

Not everything on display was virtual. An exoskeleton, dubbed HULC, permits the wearer to carry more than 100 kilograms without trouble.

Former astronaut Rick Hieb, who is now a a vice president for Lockheed Martin, explained how it operates.

“It is an exoskeleton, powered,” said Hieb. “It has a battery system in the back, motors and hydraulics, and it actually senses his motions and then tries to predict and help.”

NASA’s demanding plans for the coming years include the use of big rockets to carry people to an asteroid, something NexTech participants could experience in the cockpit of a mock space craft.

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