I don’t know all that much about the Naval Research Laboratory when I arrive in DC for “the public’s first opportunity to look inside” the space’s new $17 million Laboratory for Autonomous Systems Research (LASR). I give the cab driver the address, and he casually tells me that it “stinks,” illustrating this notion with a universally familiar hand gesture. He means it literally, too – that you can smell the place, simply driving by in a cab, with the windows up. He says this with such assurance, such gusto, that I fully expect it to smell like the city dump. A wall of stink.
It’s not much to go on, but it’s something. And while I can thankfully report that his reaction was a bit overstated – at least on this particular day – there’s certainly a distinct odor to the place. It’s a sprawling 130-acre complex that sits sandwiched between the 295 freeway and the waters of the Potomac River; a series of nearly identical big, white buildings facing inward toward a grassy courtyard. On the way in, a space with what appears to be crushed cars is visible from the freeway.