Soldiers drive their HMMWV along a crunching gravel road that opens into a muddy field. Moving forward, will the Army truck get through the muck, or stop in its tracks, buried to its axle? How can the Soldiers tell? And what if the HMMWV is autonomously driven?
The Department of Defense recognized one of its brightest scientists, Dr. Paramsothy Jayakumar, TARDEC Senior Technical Expert in Analytics, with its distinguished Scientist of the Quarter award for his efforts to answer questions just like that.
Jayakumar, with TARDEC for six years and a product of the California Institute of Technology, has spent his career researching ground vehicle mobility both on- and off-road, including how this fits into the field of intelligent vehicles. As the author of more than 125 technical publications, Jayakumar is a highly-decorated scientist, earning him numerous awards and a fellowship with the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Technically speaking, it's Jayakumar's breakthrough advancements in analytical terramechanics modeling that earned him the prestigious Scientist of the Quarter nod, developing physics-based analytical methods for how soil will respond when a vehicle rolls over it.
For decades, the Army's approach to this soil reaction problem has been empirical. That is, scientists would have to analyze the soil in a particular area before predicting how deep a tire's treads would sink. In places where scientists couldn't go before Soldiers, old data is extrapolated, often providing answers that are little better than an educated guess.
"When I joined TARDEC, I asked my colleagues what the science behind the soft-soil mobility engineering was," says Jayakumar. "I was told it was 'dirt' and people had retired trying to study them. That made me wonder, why not give it a try hoping to make it a logical discipline? It was certainly a risk, but I am glad to have taken that challenge."
Jayakumar adds that he hopes his efforts to characterize soil and its impact on mobility can lead to an easily applicable product for planners and Warfighters.
"The goal is to make the physics-based mobility calculator at the center of geospatial data of terrain and soil maps so that mobility performance metrics such as a Go/No-Go map can be derived," says Jayakumar, adding that such data could be valuable in the acquisition process, too, as new vehicles are designed and engineered.
After years of study, research and advancement in soil mechanics, Jayakumar's accomplishments are being recognized by the highest research authorities in the Department of Defense. Jayakumar received the Scientist of the Quarter recognition March 17, 2016, from Mr. Frank Kendall, the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. Jayakumar was accompanied by his family and TARDEC leadership for the event.
"My success is the result of contributions and support I have received from many of my colleagues, collaborators, mentors, leaders and family," says Jayakumar. "I am thankful for that. It is a very satisfying, but also very overwhelming experience. On one hand, yes, I was very happy that I was awarded, but on the other hand, I think it was a great thing for TARDEC. I think in many ways, they made me feel that it's not just the award itself [that's important], but that the topic is very important for the DOD."
Jayakumar adds that the award is also important to the field of study as a whole, too.
"Going forward, it's critical that leadership is recognizing how autonomous vehicles and their mobility plays into this, how important it is to be able to do it more analytically rather than test-based, especially on a basis where we cannot always go everywhere to test," says Jayakumar.
Up next, Jayakumar says he's planning to tackle the problem of computational efficiency. After all, breakthrough models need breakthrough abilities to crunch numbers quickly.