By Jane Benson, NSRDECOctober 18, 2016
NATICK, Mass. -- The Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, and Tufts University School of Engineering held a grand opening for the Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences, or CABCS, on October 18.
CABCS brings together the resources of both partners, and research will focus on optimizing Soldier performance and readiness. The nation's warfighters, as well as first responders, will benefit from the partnership's multidisciplinary, cutting-edge research and facilities, including advanced virtual reality capabilities. The center is also part of a larger effort to create a bridge between Soldiers in the field and scientists and engineers in the lab.
The center is co-directed by Caroline Mahoney, Ph.D., team leader for NSRDEC's Cognitive Science and Applications Team, and Holly A. Taylor, Ph.D., a professor of psychology in Tufts' School of Arts and Sciences who also has an appointment in mechanical engineering at Tufts.
"CABCS operates on a unique model that includes joint leadership of the center, with both institutions contributing personnel and resources to push the state-of-the-art in the brain and cognitive sciences," said Mahoney.
"The center formalizes a longstanding successful collaboration between Tufts University scientists and NSRDEC scientists," said Taylor. "And what it brings, then, is the facilities and the capabilities that can expand those successful collaborations even more. And that really was the basis of starting and building up the center at Tufts."
"The Center for Applied Brain and Cognitive Sciences is a tremendous opportunity for NSRDEC and Tufts University School of Engineering to pioneer a truly innovative partnership," said Mahoney. "By bringing together a multidisciplinary group of scientists in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, computer science, robotics, and engineering, we can view problems from different perspectives and solve complex problems for Soldiers in future operating environments."
The collaboration aims to advance researchers' understanding of how people think, respond and perform in ever more complicated, demanding, stressful and challenging real-world situations and environments.
"This partnership will also extend the expertise available for innovative, collaborative projects for Tufts researchers and graduate students by involving the NSRDEC researchers," Taylor said. "Interdisciplinarity is highly valued at Tufts already, and this center fits that emphasis."
"The partnership between Tufts and NSRDEC will allow NSRDEC scientists opportunities to partner with Tufts faculty and students and utilize unique center resources," Mahoney said. "It will also afford the opportunity for Tufts faculty, undergrad and grad students to gain further real-world experience working collaboratively with NSRDEC scientists to solve Soldier problems in specialized NSRDEC facilities, such as the climatic chambers, that are not available to them at the university."
"Our objective at the cooperative center is to identify innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to monitoring Soldier physiological and mental states, predicting how those mental states influence operational behavior, and optimizing behavior via adaptive, multimodal interfaces, neuromodulation, nutritional intervention, and robotic platforms," said Dr. Tad Brunyé, the center's Scientific Manager and senior cognitive scientist on NSRDEC's Cognitive Science and Applications Team. "This objective is accomplished through fundamental and applied interdisciplinary research to inform the design and development of next-generation support and augmentation systems, enhancing future Soldier capabilities and performance during kinetic operations."
"A core objective of the center is to enhance situational understanding and decision-making by characterizing Soldier cognitive capabilities and limitations in complex future environments," said Mahoney. "We do this by building strong foundational science and then translating this to more relevant environments, operational tasks and stressors in our virtual environment laboratories. This helps to ensure that by the time we get to testing in field environments we have identified the most promising methods, metrics, and strategies to measure, predict and optimize performance."
CABCS also aims to enhance Soldier performance through science-based guidelines for the development of technology and Soldier interaction with technology.
"The idea here is that we design future technology to work for the human, rather than fitting the human to a new technology," said Mahoney.
NSRDEC and Tufts will also investigate individual and team interaction and performance.
"The ability to quantify individual Soldier or small team situational understanding, decision-making and readiness across a range of complex future operating environments, mission scenarios, and physical and emotional stressors allows us to develop valuable predictions of performance in future situations," said Mahoney.
Both Taylor and Mahoney are excited about the center's possibilities.
"The center brings together a multidisciplinary group of world-renowned experts in the fields of cognitive science, psychology, neuroscience, computer science, robotics, engineering, linguistics, and nutrition to push the state of the science on measuring, predicting and enhancing cognitive capabilities and human-system interactions for individuals and teams working in naturalistic high-stakes environments," said Mahoney. "The research focus for the center is the dismounted Soldier, but certainly data and knowledge products developed will have the potential to make a significant impact on law enforcement, emergency first responders, and the medical community, as well."
"What the center has done is made opportunities available to bring together scientists from different disciplines and begin conversation, which will, I believe, lead to even more exciting research," said Taylor.
The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center 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.