AUSTIN, Texas — Investing in new technologies is an integral aspect of Army modernization. Whether exploring ways to make combat vehicles less fuel-dependent or analyzing how biometric monitoring can improve Soldier health outcomes, Army researchers and engineers are committed to identifying and cultivating the best new solutions for Soldiers.
While strategic investments in cutting-edge technologies yield important results for the Army and broader Department of Defense, they also historically have borne innovations in the commercial sector. In the mid-1940s, for example, an engineer at a defense company that was conducting radar research for the U.S. military accidentally discovered the food-heating power of electromagnetic radiation — a realization that led to the development of modern microwave ovens. The Jeeps driven on public roadways today also have their origins in the military, as the first Jeep was created in 1940 as an Army vehicle and was used widely by American and Allied forces during World War II.
Given that much of the Army’s work surrounding innovation is accelerated by collaborative partnerships with industry experts, the development of these dual-use technologies is reciprocal — Army research investments further the creation of new tech capabilities, while private-sector inventions inform the Army of what is feasible within the modernization landscape. These mutually beneficial interactions help propel advances in areas that range from detailed satellite imaging to night vision adaptation to lightweight drone technology.
“Investments in breakthrough technologies are essential to Army modernization, as well as the advancement of U.S. capabilities as a whole,” said Lt. Gen. Thomas H. Todd III, Deputy Commanding General for Acquisition and Systems and Chief Innovation Officer at Army Futures Command.
“The development of dual-use technologies strengthens our nation’s ability to lead in critical areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, while simultaneously solidifying our ability to protect Soldiers and citizens,” Todd said.
At Army Futures Command, several research initiatives have resulted in additional uses outside of the military realm.
At the Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory, or DEVCOM ARL, in Adelphi, Maryland, Army researchers partnered with a company to develop a sensor- and software-enabled environmental hazard monitoring system. The easy-to-use mobile technology, which models toxic plumes and other hazards, can be utilized to inform emergency responders of changes in wind and other factors that could affect response strategies, improving situational awareness and safety.
ARL also facilitated the development of light detection and ranging technology, known as LiDAR, that is now being used by a small business partner for commercial drone mapping; the LiDAR technology is applicable to the commercial development of manned and unmanned aerial and ground vehicles, underwater imaging, and surveillance and security.
In addition, ARL researchers developed a nanogalvanic aluminum powder that when mixed with water can be used to produce hydrogen power. The technology is currently being used by a Chicago-based hydrogen power business.
Meanwhile, early research carried out at the DEVCOM Soldier Center in Natick, Massachusetts, contributed to the Department of Defense’s ongoing exploration of non-toxic liquid repellant coatings for textiles. These coatings, once developed, will protect the wearer from hazards such as chemicals, blood, fuel, biological pathogens and chemical warfare agents. Shielding textiles could potentially be used in the public sphere to improve civilian personal protective equipment, construction and shipyard worker clothing, and outdoor gear and apparel.
The Army also participates in U.S. Government-wide efforts to cultivate new technology solutions with an array of applications. For example, ARL is taking part in the Department of Homeland Security’s Commercialization Accelerator Program. The program supports federally funded research and development centers and university affiliated research centers in moving federally funded tech toward the commercial market, thereby enhancing a spectrum of homeland security capabilities.
In addition, the Army conducts outreach to identify and harness dual-use technologies that emerge from the private sector. The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology launched the xTech program to facilitate prize competitions that award and accelerate innovative technologies, with an aim of solving persistent Army challenges. At Army Futures Command, the Austin-based Army Applications Laboratory serves as an incubator for novel ideas, helping entrepreneurs develop and present promising solutions, while the command’s Office of Small Business Programs provides pathways for outstanding small businesses to partner with the Army. Recent small business partnerships initiated by the command have aided in the development of augmented reality goggles for working dogs, new radio frequency and photonic technology to eliminate communication signal interference and advances in chemical detection technology.
According to Diana Jordan-Baldwin, the Office of Small Business Programs’ Small Business Innovation Coordinator, working with private industry “provides cutting-edge and future technology, which allows Army Futures Command to meet the mission of tomorrow.”