Collaboration Breeds Synergy... and an iPad App

November 15, 2012

Story Highlights

  • SLAD delivered an iPad application that could shave hours off the assessment process on the home front and in a combat zone, allow the capture of forensic data that would typically be lost
  • SLAD provided the application to teams with Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) and National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) to test its functionality in theater
  • The application was the result of communication and collaboration between disciplines, in this case biology and computer science, within SLAD

Through collaboration, communication and a chance conversation, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's (ARL's) Survivability/Lethality Analysis Directorate (SLAD) delivered an iPad application that could shave hours off the assessment process on the home front, and in a combat zone, allow the capture of forensic data that would typically be lost.

Greg Dietrich, team leader for the Survivability Assessment Team within the Warfighter Survivability Branch, was in need of a faster method to capture damage to plywood mannequins caused during live-fire testing and evaluation (LFT&E).

"In LFT&E, we have to make predictions on what injury would have occurred inside the vehicle," Dietrich said. "We have plywood mannequins in the vehicle and we collect data from those mannequins."

The data collection process takes a few hours and involves several steps. Those steps include: manually collecting data on holes and damage to the mannequins, entering the data into a spreadsheet, and transferring the data into the Operational Requirements-based Casualty Assessment (ORCA) model. The model is used to determine the type and severity of the injury based on the experimental data. After a 15-minute conversation in an airport and one week of research and development, there is now an app for that.

Dietrich was traveling with Lee Butler, a computer scientist with the Advanced Systems and Lethality Branch, in December 2011, when he mentioned the problem he was having. Butler began to think about it and after one week, he had a prototype of exactly what Dietrich needed. The iPad application has the ability to capture data from the actual mannequin and mark it on a virtual mannequin on the screen, as well as collect photographs and measurements of the damage. The intent is to enhance the app so the data is automatically uploaded to ORCA.

Dietrich knew of an ARL employee, Larry Dougherty, who would be traveling to Afghanistan in less than a week. Once in theater, Dougherty would be working with crews that assess actual damage to vehicles from combat. He knew that if he could share this new tool with them, it would improve their data collection processes and enhance the data they were able to collect. These actions would result in better analyses on the home front.

"We can find the best answers, but if we don't effectively communicate those answers to decision makers, it's pointless," Dietrich said.

In theater, teams with the Army Test and Evaluation Command (ATEC) and the National Ground Intelligence Center (NGIC) try to capture forensic evidence as soon as a vehicle is damaged in combat, so as to assess the vehicle damage to determine if it responded as we would expect, or if there may be any new vulnerabilities. However, most of that forensic evidence takes too long to capture while in a combat zone, so the vehicles are recovered quickly and removed from the scene so that more assessments can be done once the vehicle is in a safe location.

"Without the iPad application, no one is going to do it [the assessment]. You don't want to be in the area after an event. A lot of times it [the vehicle] is just removed. At that point, you've lost forensic knowledge of where it was in the scene," Butler said.

Dougherty asked Butler if the application could be adapted to include computer-aided-design drawings of the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected vehicle, so that damage could be assessed using the iPad. This would cut the data collection time in a combat zone from 30 minutes to just a few minutes. In the week before Dougherty deployed, Butler was able to adjust the app so that it could create the scenario with the vehicle, the vehicle with a crew inside, or each of the crew members with no vehicle. Butler was able to develop the specific application and have it ready to deploy with Dougherty to Afghanistan where it was shared with ATEC and NGIC.

"Everybody who gathers this data now carries a camera, notepad, tape measure and caliper. This new app collapses that down to one device. When you get it back from the scene, data, associations, photos are all linked together," Butler said. "At this point, most are really thrilled. It would not only help ARL, but Soldiers in the field. This all came about because of a happenstance objective," Butler said of the common travel schedule that he and Dietrich shared.

"This is what we can do in a lot of areas if we just communicate," Butler said. "Communication breeds synergy. I developed a tool for gathering mannequin data which morphed into gathering vehicle data, which now provides a valuable tool for the Soldier."

-From The SLAD Bulletin, vol 1 issue 1, Aug 2012


Last Update / Reviewed: November 15, 2012