Army engineer advances battlefield sensing through DOD exchange program experience

February 10, 2016

By Jenna Brady, ARL Public Affairs

ADELPHI, Md. -- Dr. Raju Damarla, an electronics engineer at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory, recently spent some time in Germany exploring battlefield sensing technologies at Fraunhofer FKIE, an institute that is a part of Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Europe's largest application-oriented research organization.

At the institute, which focuses on researching defense and security issues, approximately 380 members of staff are working on the development of innovative technologies targeted at analyzing intelligence and the early detection and prevention of potential threats.

Damarla's experience was made possible through the Engineer and Scientist Exchange Program, or ESEP, a Department of Defense professional development exchange program that promotes international cooperation in military research, development and acquisition.

Current countries participating under ESEP include Australia, Canada, Chile, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Singapore, Spain and the United Kingdom.

ESEP provides career-broadening work assignments for U.S. personnel in foreign defense establishments. DOD civilians, as well as military personnel, are eligible to apply if they have an engineering or scientific background. Foreign military or government scientists and engineers can likewise be hosted by a U.S. DOD laboratory or engineering center.

ESEP assignments provide participants with unique inside knowledge of how defense research and development works in their host country. While assigned, they work under the direction of a "host supervisor" and perform the same type of duties that would be expected from their foreign colleagues.

The different technical directions being explored abroad in their area of expertise can be both eye-opening and surprising.

Damarla's collaboration with Fraunhofer FKIE researchers and subsequent ESEP assignment stemmed from ARL's participation in various scientific conferences, where the researchers found that they had similar research interests and end goals.

Damarla is developing what is known as Anti-Personnel Landmine Alternative Technology, where non-imaging sensors such as acoustic, seismic and magnetic sensors are used to generate situational awareness by detecting, tracking and counting the number of people and vehicles that congregate in a certain area.

According to Damarla, counting the number of people and vehicles using non-imaging sensors is a difficult task, but a task that has been executed with the assistance of Fraunhofer FKIE scientists.

"Fraunhofer FKIE scientists are experts in what is known as intensity Filter, or iFilter, implementation, which is effective in detecting and counting the number of people and vehicles through measuring ground vibrations using distributed seismic sensors," Damarla said.

Damarla said that major benefits of this technology include the fact that the sensors, once deployed, can last for up to six months or more compared to the much shorter life of current imaging sensors, as they do not require as much power.

In addition, the sensors have the ability to detect whether the people congregating in an area are civilian or military personnel.

"For the warfighter, this technology can be of significant benefit on the battlefield. The detection of people, such as adversaries, and vehicles on the battlefield can provide warfighters with the information that they need to determine their next move and who and what they need to deploy to effectively respond to events that deviate from normal operations such as the congregation of a group or groups of individuals in an area where that typically does not occur," Damarla said.

While Damarla's experience lasted just three months, he said that the knowledge and further insight into new technology that he gained gave him the ability to advance his work at ARL, Anti-Personnel Landmine Alternative Technology, which he foresees being available for use by Soldiers in two to three years.

Not only did this collaborative effort advance battlefield sensing technology, it opened the door for ARL and Fraunhofer FKIE researchers to work together on projects of similar nature. It is already in the works to have researchers from the institute visit ARL at the lab's headquarters in Adelphi, Maryland, in the near future as a result of Damarla's time at the institute.

Damarla said that he fully enjoyed his experience in Germany and encourages his fellow colleagues and researchers to participate in programs such as ESEP to broaden their research perspectives, form international partnerships with professionals in similar fields, and further enhance science and technology in support of the warfighter.

If interested in applying to ESEP, the ARL point of contact is Jason Craley of the Technology Transfer and Outreach Office. Craley can be reached at or 410-306-1275.

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is the nation's premier laboratory for land forces and is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM), which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC delivers it.

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Last Update / Reviewed: February 10, 2016