Army partners with Texas research universities to hone high-tech equipment

By Maureena Thompson, Army Futures CommandMarch 10, 2022

A student demonstrates robotic arm-facilitated movements at the UT Robotics Center of Excellence.
A student demonstrates robotic arm-facilitated movements at the UT Robotics Center of Excellence, located on the University of Texas at Austin campus. (Photo Credit: Patrick Hunter, Army Futures Command) VIEW ORIGINAL

AUSTIN, Texas – U.S. Army Futures Command continues to lead the transformation of the Army through multiple modernization initiatives, including technology research and engineering endeavors with leading institutes of higher education.

Integral to this effort is the work of the command headquarters’ University Technology Development Division (UTDD), which engages with tech-forward universities to develop cutting-edge equipment and resources for future Soldiers.

Since 2019, UTDD has partnered with the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University – two powerhouse public universities with extensive experience in technology exploration and advancement – to evolve the Army’s priority tech capabilities.

Futures Command’s three-year, $25 million cooperative agreement with the University of Texas at Austin, facilitated through UTDD, aims to deliver solutions that can be quickly incorporated into Army structures.

At the University of Texas at Austin’s UT Robotics Center of Excellence, professors and students are working diligently to expand and strengthen intelligent abilities and systems ranging from the robotic detection of changes in terrain to next-generation network defenses against adversarial attacks.

The center, which is housed in a high-ceilinged, orange brick building that once served as a university gymnasium, provides an industrial backdrop for innovative thinking.

Research conducted at the center is, in many ways, assessing how humans – including Soldiers – can “have more subtle and deeper interactions with machines,” said Prof. Ashish Deshpande of the UT Mechanical Engineering Department, who serves as director of the Rehabilitation and Neuromuscular Robotics Lab.

“We want our robots eventually to move fluidly around humans,” said Prof. Joydeep Biswas of the UT Computer Science Department, who works in the center’s Autonomous Mobile Robotics Lab.

Biswas is part of a team working on software to further develop the abilities of “Spot,” a bright yellow, dog-like robot created by Boston Dynamics that can travel over and around obstacles with precision – providing a potential option for safer reconnaissance or search-and-rescue missions.

The “Spot” robot, pictured at the UT Robotics Center of Excellence, can detect and adjust changes.
The “Spot” robot, pictured at the UT Robotics Center of Excellence, can detect and adjust for changes in terrain. (Photo Credit: Patrick Hunter, Army Futures Command) VIEW ORIGINAL

Additional projects conducted at UT Applied Research Laboratories are informing and furthering high-tech projects led by Futures Command Cross-Functional Teams, including by enhancing their ability to utilize assured positioning, navigation and timing and other operational assets.

The advancement of such capabilities is designed to expand the Army’s tactical options and advantages on future battlefields, including by increasing the use of autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles to minimize risks to Soldiers.

The Army is also investing in ways to expand its testing and incremental development of larger materiel designed for future warfighting.

Through a five-year, $65 million cooperative agreement established through UTDD, Futures Command is supporting Texas A&M University to establish key elements of its expansive George H.W. Bush Combat Development Complex in Bryan, Texas.

The complex, which remains under development, will include a Ballistic Aero-Optics and Materials Test Range. The large-scale and fully enclosed facility will be capable of testing hypersonic and directed energy and will support the study of next-generation indirect fires and indirect fires protection systems.

In addition, the complex’s Innovation Proving Ground will allow emerging technologies in ground and air autonomy to be demonstrated and developed in a fully instrumented and contested 200-acre outdoor laboratory.

UTDD’s strategic investments across these diverse areas of research and engineering enables projects that are unique, cost-effective and Soldier-focused, paving the way for rapid demonstration and transition of technology innovations.

“Our partnerships with academia are key to catalyze innovation and modernization efforts,” said Dru Jackson, Capabilities Integration Chief at Army Futures Command.

“I look forward to building upon these initiatives to produce groundbreaking research and innovation that solves complex Army problems,” she added.