Aberdeen, Md.— The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Analysis Center, known as DAC, is participating in a second semester-long collaborative project as part of a Capstone Initiative between the Army Futures Command Enterprise, National Security Innovation Network, and Texas A&M University for the 2021-2022 school year.
During the fall semester, six participating students worked with DAC to create a proof-of-concept for new representation infrastructure in a computer-aided design system known as BRL-CAD. Their insights won them first place within the University’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering for their capstone findings, among approximately 1200 student participants evaluated by over 100 industry judges.
This collaboration was continued for another semester in the spring with heightened departmental interest and a new cohort of ten students. Via coordination by industry capstone faculty lead Pauline Wade and DAC mentor C. Sean Morrison, the ten students were divided into two teams to improve and preserve BRL-CAD’s material representation and production rendering infrastructure.
While this capstone program exposes DAC to intellectual diversity, it grants opportunity for students to tackle real-world technical challenges and gain meaningful professional connections. One student has even accepted an internship position to support DAC and started in early March.
Christopher McGregor, Texas A&M senior and software development intern, was immediately fascinated by DAC’s BRL-CAD pitch last semester. “A lot of our capstone options were company sponsored, but DAC presented something that was open source,” McGregor said. “It was an exciting project.”
BRL-CAD is a widely available tool used for a variety of engineering analysis work, containing the oldest known continuously developed open source repository in the world. It enables modeling of terrains, buildings, humans, vehicles, appliances and other objects. DAC uses BRL-CAD to support Army, Air Force and Navy analyses of military assets and their environments to better understand how their interactions impact mission success. DAC also maintains this software functionality for the Army and is currently modernizing BRL-CAD’s interface for the next generation of users.
According to Morrison, the current students are taking the proof-of-concept from the previous semester and creating something analysts can use day to day, focused on a production-ready capability. “One team is working on foundational capability: the ability to do physically-based rendering so the material properties are set in geometry and look accurate,” Morrison said. “The other team is working on the user experience.”
Morrison explains that when simulating an object in software, whether it’s an aluminum chair or steel frame, its physical properties must behave correctly. To get accurate details of a weapon's effects on a target vehicle, for example, analysts require a thorough and precise characterization of that vehicle's geometry, materials and other components. This is central to DAC’s analyses of ballistics damage to create sound conclusions about what system capabilities would be lost or retained.
Ultimately, accurate and representative physical properties improve vulnerability and lethality analysis for the DOD modeling community.
“The students are incredibly efficient and organized,” Morrison said, comparing working with both student cohorts to working with “a professional software development house.”
According to him, the students’ energy and fresh perspective are key to the vitality of DAC and the greater DOD modeling community. “Their applied software engineering practices result in improved capabilities and workflow efficiency.”
As for McGregor, gaining this rigorous, practical experience benefitted him and his peers. “This was my first real-world software development project with an in-depth codebase. With the Army, we need to be accurate— there was no faking it. We had to put in good work,” McGregor said. He also shared that Morrison was an important resource for learning about BRL-CAD and getting solid feedback for his own software development growth: “Sean is awesome and so knowledgeable and approachable. I can’t say you can get that everywhere else, even a fraction of that.”
Students will present their capstone to DAC analysts on May 9, and will undergo an assessment by an industry panel at Texas A&M industry earlier that week.
The DEVCOM Analysis Center is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command. Visit the DEVCOM website at https://www.army.mil/devcom.