By Jerilyn Coleman
Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD -- The Advanced Design and Manufacturing – Product Realization Division at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (DEVCOM CBC) partnered with students at Bucknell University to develop an audio communications module for the Array Configured of Remote Network Sensors (ACoRNS) interface.
Through a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA), Center engineers and the Bucknell University capstone design team developed a prototype for a new two-way audio communications module to pair with the ACoRNS system. This module can affixed to an unmanned air or ground vehicle or mounted on a fixed tripod to allow audio to be sent from a remote location to an operator or from the operator back to that remote location, according to Mark Colgan, unmanned systems team lead for DEVCOM CBC.
ACoRNS is a modular sensor system that gives users the ability to select and customize capabilities for a unique mission. For example, if an operator is on a mission and wants to obtain better situational understanding, ACoRNS allows them to select and attach a chemical sensor, radio system or a battery system as a module and place them on a ground vehicle or drone. The radio system would give the warfighter the ability to send data back to the operator, as well as connected information networks for sharing in real time with other warfighters and the battery system enables the sensors to operate, and can prolong mission life. The audio communication module that Bucknell University students developed allows the operator to hear what is occurring in the field and be able to provide an alert to perform a necessary action.
“Our job is to create one of these modules that will be attached to the existing system to do surveillance. It will be monitoring surrounding areas as well as broadcasting live messages to that area,” said Bucknell University student project manager, Aditi Vijayvergia.
For example, Vijayvergia said, if the warfighter is operating a drone equipped with a chemical sensor and detects a chemical hazard, he or she can use the audio module to warn others near the drone to seek shelter, don a gas mask or take other protective action.
“That's the idea of an ACoRNS,” Colgan said. “You stack the pieces you need on a tripod, on a vehicle, on a drone. The audio puck gives us the ability to do two-way communications. We want to be able to hear what's going on in that location or be able to broadcast the message out.”
Over the last four months, not only were Center engineers and Bucknell students busy developing this two-way communication system, but they were involved in a two-way partnership that benefited both parties. “There are different ways to engage with university students, teams or individuals. You provide them information, advice, coaching and mentoring but you get something back. You get to see their experiences, their thoughts, their ideas,” Colgan said.
Colgan’s team has worked with students at universities like Bucknell in the past, but like many student programs at the Center, COVID-19 impacted their ability to perform this project on-site in a laboratory. In this case, the project was done primarily in a virtual environment. “My experience working with Mr. Colgan and the Chemical Biological Center has been great,” said Vijayvergia. “I’ve been able to learn a lot from the entire team. We were able to interact with them. Being able to work with the team through online interactions has been beneficial and helpful. Overall, we’ve had a phenomenal time working with them.”
In February, the Center’s ACoRNS team and the students gathered for a virtual event on Microsoft Teams to discuss technical details of the project, and on April 9 the students got a chance to visit the Center, engage in final discussions surrounding their work and watch live demonstrations on how ACoRNS works.
In May, the students at Bucknell wrapped up their project with the second iteration of the audio system. They delivered a design to the Center and presented any potential problems and improvements needed to be made.
According to Colgan, the ACoRNS audio communication module is not designed to be a fielded item, it’s designed to highlight how integral this capability can be to the Army and the Center’s mission. “For ACoRNS, this project gives us another item in the toolkit as we’re developing the range of capabilities of what ACoRNS could do,” Colgan said. “It’s not a stakeholder desire, but warfighters and users can benefit from it. It gives us a new capability at low risk.”