By David McNally, ARL Public AffairsAugust 3, 2016
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- The Department of Defense's number two official spent time with scientists and engineers at the Army Research Laboratory on Tuesday, Aug. 2.
Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert O. Work inspected technologies that align with DOD's vision of the "Third Offset Strategy," advanced projects in areas like robotics, miniaturization, and manufacturing that are meant to ensure the United States can maintain military superiority without matching an adversary plane-for-plane, tank-for-tank or troop-for-troop.
During the visit, Army engineers demonstrated a robot exploring its terrain in real time and teaming with a human operator to provide what may become a situational awareness asset for future Soldiers.
"We see robots as teammates in support of the offset strategy," Dr. Stuart Young, chief of the laboratory's Asset Control and Behavior Branch, told the deputy secretary. "Currently robots are tools, and we want to make them organic team members with our Soldiers."
Work also observed the laboratory's efforts in additive manufacturing, otherwise known as 3-D printing.
"We're working on structural hybridization," explained LJ Holmes, the laboratory's lead for additive manufacturing. "We have a facility with additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing equipment. It's not feasible for us to send that into the field -- at least not right now."
Holmes said they are working on processing multiple materials in one box.
"We have equipment specifically designed to print metals, but through the work we've done here at [the Army Research Laboratory], we can process metals, ceramics, polymers and glass on one machine."
The idea is that one day in the near future these devices will be capable of printing a part for a truck suspension one day, and ceramic body armor the next, whatever is needed on-demand at the point of use, he said.
Army scientist Dr. Jean Vettel and her team demonstrated how the lab is capturing data straight from the brain and enhancing machine learning.
"Whenever we want humans and machines to work well together as a team, one of the challenges is how to get more knowledge about the human," Vettel said. "Our goal is to find out how we can do neuroscience where we can start quantifying individuals and then design individualized technologies."
Army engineers also showed the Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle, or JTARV, a rectangular-shaped quadcopter that can currently carry up to 300 pounds of cargo within a 10-mile range.
"In a firefight, when a Soldier is running low on ammunition, resupply is critical," said Sgt. 1st Class Daniel Guenther, an enlisted advisor at the laboratory. "I've had situations where speedballs were dropped off to me by helicopters."
In the military context, a "speedball" refers to a bag of supplies, usually ammunition, dropped from a plane or helicopter to soldiers in the field.
"What are the implications of that?" asked Army researcher Tim Vong. "We're working with users in the joint community to look at this concept."
The Army Research Laboratory transferred the Joint Tactical Aerial Resupply Vehicle program to the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center at Picatinny, New Jersey, but the lab researchers still serve as experts on matters like aeromechanics, propulsion, intelligence and controls. The Marine Corps recently joined the program.
During the half-day visit, many other scientists and engineers showcased additional technologies, such as innovative advances in active armor protection and materials sciences.
"Our mission is to organize, train and equip a joint force that is ready for war and that is operated forward to preserve the peace," Work said.
Work has likened his role to the chief operating officer of one of the biggest corporations on the planet with the responsibility to build the defense portfolio.
The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint warfighter and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.