ARL increases presence on West Coast

February 23, 2016

By Joyce M. Conant, ARL Public Affairs

Story Highlights

  • ARL West provides a collaborative approach of "bridge research"
  • ARL West to benefit from academic as well as tech and creative industry strengths to enhance the capabilities of our Warfighters
  • ARL has presence at ICT before ARL West establishment

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Feb. 11, 2016) -- The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is moving forward with its decision to expand to the west coast and establish ARL West in Los Angeles, California.

The new ARL site is located at the University of Southern California's Institute for Creative Technologies and is expected to support up to 70 Army employees with initial focus on research between the institute and Army researchers. This is the first collaboration center located near Los Angeles in an area being called Silicon Beach.

But even before its establishment, ARL has had presence at ICT. Dr. Peter Khooshabehadeh, who prefers to be referred to as Pete Khooshabeh, is a research psychologist who is also known as a cognitive scientist working for ARL's Human Research and Engineering Directorate. Khooshabeh started as a post-doc with HRED in January 2010 and converted to a civilian in 2014 and has been located at ICT the entire time.

Let's hear more about Pete and his research at ICT and find out what he thinks about ARL's decision to expand its research and collaboration to the west coast.

Have you always been located at ICT in LA?

Yes, the impetus for my post-doc was to build bridge research projects between the two DOD/Army University Affiliated Research Centers, or UARCs, in Southern California that had two similar, yet complementary areas of research.

Where were you before coming to ARL?

Before starting my post-doc, I was in graduate school at UCSB where I received my PhD in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences. It was there at the UCSB Research Center for Virtual Environments and Behavior that I got to really immerse myself in virtual reality research and development. A lot of my work at UCSB was driven by basic research questions around how people performed tasks that involved spatial thinking, such as mentally manipulating or rotating objects in the mind. To do that research, I developed VR [virtual reality] simulations to see what kind of perceptual and cognitive aids in the 3-D VR would help people and whether this depended on individuals' traits, such as spatial ability, gender, or cultural background.

How did it come to be that you work for ARL, but located in Los Angeles?

In the fall of 2008, I had started my search to seek opportunities after graduate school. So I applied to a position at the ARL. Not too long after that, Dr. Don Headley reached back to me and suggested that I consider a novel post-doc where I would spend time at both ICT and ICB UARC's. So I spent the initial six-months at the ICT learning aspects of the virtual human toolkit, which is a best-in class suite of technologies that is used to make embodied conversational characters. I used the virtual human toolkit in order to design social psychological studies.

You see, most social psychology research studies use human "confederates," which are people who are part of the experimental team and trained to convey certain social or cultural cues to the other "real" research participants. For example, in classic social psycho-physiology studies on emotions, confederates have acted either euphoric or angry. My research uses sufficiently realistic virtual characters to display similar non-verbal behavior. This allows us to more rigorously manipulate social cues during interpersonal tasks compared to psychological research that uses human confederates whom might be variable from one session of a study to another.

What type of research do you do for ARL at the ICT and ICB?

I can answer that question in a couple of ways. First, as an interdisciplinary scientist, the type of research that I conduct involves several methodologies from the behavioral sciences. This includes psychophysiology, eye fixation tracking, virtual reality and computational modeling. The other way to answer that question is in terms of my theoretically motivated research agenda. For that, a lot of my work is on the impact of contextual factors, such as participants' individual differences in terms of cultural background, on psychological processes. For example, in close collaboration with ICT and USC colleagues on the main campus, I published several studies that investigated the subtle effects of spoken accent on bicultural individuals who performed a decision making task. Other studies I have conducted have looked at contextual factors such as humorous language or emotional facial expressions and their effects on decision making tasks. This research can have implications on informing how Warfighters develop situational understanding, which relates to Army Warfighting Challenge No. 1.

Can you explain in more detail what the UARC is, why and how you are involved?

The UARC concept is a vehicle by which the DOD engages with academic research institutions to focus on problems that are otherwise not addressed internally within a preexisting national lab, DOD or otherwise. I have chosen to focus my career in alignment with UARC facilities because it seems to provide the best case scenario of both conducting interesting fundamental and applied research in an academic environment, while also having the potential to make an impact on national security and protecting Warfighters.

What does it mean to you personally having an offsite ARL West location there?

Personally, the ARL West concept is another validation that the collaborative approach of "bridge research" is the way that science should be conducted in the 21st century. Along with the Open Campus policy, ARL West opens the possibilities of aligning not just with universities, but also engaging with innovating industry partners to work on complex problems. The particular geographic location of ARL West places ARL research in a position to engage with the burgeoning tech industry in Silicon Beach, which now pervades beyond the west side of Los Angeles and spans all the way to downtown Los Angeles.

Do you believe this will better support the mission of ARL?

Solving complex problems requires having multiple perspectives. Through ARL West, I believe that the laboratory will benefit from academic as well as tech and creative industry strengths to enhance the capabilities of our Warfighters.

What do you like to do outside of the office? Hobbies?

One of my hobbies outside of work is playing classical and folk Middle Eastern music.

Are you married, and if so, do you have any children?

I've been married to my wonderful wife for about a year and a half – no children yet.

Is there something you wish to share with readers that they might not know about you?

I am of Assyrian ethnicity, which is a persecuted, Christian and ethnic minority in the Middle East. My family and I fled to the USA as religious refugees when I was seven.

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory is part of the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, whose mission is to ensure decisive overmatch for unified land operations to empower the Army, the joint Warfighter, and our nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the Army Materiel Command.


Last Update / Reviewed: February 23, 2016