National Science Foundation-backed program sparks entrepreneurial spirit in visiting students
September 03, 2015
By Jenna Brady, ARL Public Affairs
- Through the DC I-Corps program, two graduate students from the University of Maryland, College Park recently spent some time at ARL looking into the marketability of the lab's patented technology surrounding its Omni Directional Treadmill.
- The Omni Directional Treadmill offers a visually immersive environment to provide for realistic, high fidelity dismounted warrior simulations that enable repeatable, laboratory-controlled mission rehearsal and investigations of critical Soldier issues.
- The students are currently working on a business plan and hope to create a business based on this ARL technology.
Two graduate students from the University of Maryland, College Park, recently spent some time at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory looking into the marketability of the lab's patented technology.
Specifically, the students looked at technology that was invented to explore another method of performing human locomotion to replace the lab's current Omni Directional Treadmill technology.
The students' visit was made possible through the District of Columbia I-Corps program, a regional program designed to foster, grow, and nurture an innovation ecosystem in the nation's capital in the nearby states of Maryland, Virginia, and the mid-Atlantic region.
The program, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and jointly run by the University of Maryland, College Park, George Washington University, Virginia Tech, and Johns Hopkins University, provides real world hands-on training on how to effectively incorporate innovations into successful products.
According to one of the students' mentors, Jason Craley of ARL's Program and Budget Office's Technology Transfer Team, the DC I-Corps program allows ARL inventors to get unique insight into the marketability of their ideas and how it can benefit the Soldier and society.
"As a research-focused institution, ARL does not necessarily have the business acumen needed to recognize every market opportunity that our inventions might help meet. Programs like DC I-Corps allow us to leverage a diverse and eager pool of entrepreneurs who look at our intellectual property with fresh eyes," said Craley.
As an organization, ARL currently has over 200 patents available for licensing, with 30 to 40 added per year and growing.
"The vast majority of the lab's intellectual property is not being licensed, and the patents can often expire after just seven and a half years. As stewards of taxpayer dollars, we are obligated to transfer as much of our technology back to society as possible to create jobs and strengthen the economy. By investing in programs like DC I-Corps, we are doing our part to help make this obligation a reality," Craley stated.
When exploring the current technology that makes up the lab's Omni-Directional Treadmill, the students, Justin Kondos and James Moscariello, compared the technology to ARL's patented improvement, which was the main focus of their studies.
Kondos and Moscariello mentioned that when reviewing all of the technologies they could select from for this program, they were drawn to the treadmill because of its uniqueness, technological challenge, the exciting potential to improve the system, and the "cool" factor of a technology that everyone can experience and participate in at many different levels.
According to ARL researcher and mentor to Kondos and Moscariello, Jim Faughn, the Omni-Directional Treadmill stemmed from a four-year effort that began in 1999 through an Army Science and Technology Objective titled "Virtual Environments for Dismounted Soldier Simulation, Training and Mission Rehearsal."
Under this objective, ARL was responsible for demonstrating an advanced mobility interface device that provides a realistic perception of movement and an accurate expenditure of energy by the user.
After the initial acquisition of the Omni Directional Treadmill, upgrades to the treadmill began in 2002 and were delivered in 2006. The upgrades included a visually immersive environment to provide for realistic, high fidelity dismounted warrior simulations that enable repeatable, laboratory-controlled mission rehearsal and investigations of critical Soldier issues.
"The Omni Directional Treadmill allows warfighters to train in virtual environments that are similar to the real-world environments that may be impossible for them to physically train in," said Faughn.
In addition to mission training, the treadmill can be used for scientific investigations and evaluations using warfighters and the equipment they wear and carry.
"A virtual reality device that allows warfighters to conduct their normal missions and expend energy is a very useful device, especially if it recreates the same motions and expenditures as normal human locomotion. The Omni Directional Treadmill will continue to be a valuable asset for scientific and human locomotion studies and mobility investigations," stated Faughn.
Kondos and Moscariello first immersed themselves into this technology by reviewing the patent for the proposed new operating technology, and then by actually walking on the Omni Directional Treadmill to get a first-hand experience of the current technology.
"This provided the students with an invaluable exposure to what the current level of virtual reality immersion is and what the areas of possible improvement are that will take it to the next level," Faughn stated.
Moscariello is currently a business transformation consultant with Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. His areas of study include entrepreneurship and consulting.
According to Moscariello, working with ARL has been a very positive experience.
"ARL inventors are noticeably dedicated to improving the capabilities and thereby safety and effectiveness of Soldiers. The Technology Transfer Team was also very supportive and engaged in our research. They took the time to meet with us and attended several of our progress presentations," said Moscariello.
When asked what he thinks the main benefits of the DC I-Corps program are, Moscariello said the ability to address real-world problems.
"Contrived textbook word problems have a lot of missing variables and at times lack the ability to be investigated. The relationship portion of problem solving always exists and is lost on classroom confined problems. The DC I-Corps program helps make up for this," Moscariello stated.
Kondos is currently a technology consultant at Red Hat Inc. His areas of study include technology management and entrepreneurship.
Kondos stated that his experience at ARL has been exciting, informative and very cooperative. He also mentioned that ARL has its advantages over other labs throughout the country.
"One advantage that ARL has compared to other labs across the country, with respect to the DC I-Corps program specifically, is its close proximity to the Washington, D.C. metro area. This enabled us to meet in person and demo the existing Omni Directional Treadmill at the lab, located in Aberdeen, Maryland, and really get hands-on with the technology and experience the pain-points and limitations that the invention aims to overcome," said Kondos.
Kondos believes that the DC I-Corps program is beneficial due to the exposure to the world of technology transfer, the experienced and knowledgeable mentors that the program provides for its students, the hands on nature of the class, and the subject matter, which revolutionizes the traditional methods of creating and evaluating business models and debunks a good amount of preconceptions about how to go about starting a company.
Currently, Kondos and Moscariello are working on a first draft of a business plan and are putting together a motion tracking system, which is the first piece of reinventing the Omni Directional Treadmill.
"We have decided that in-place locomotion will be in high demand in the next few years with the emergence of commercially available virtual reality solutions and have begun planning out when we want to enter the market and what our position would be," Kondos stated.
"Since virtual reality is so complex, and designing, modeling and manufacturing an optimized Omni Directional Treadmill will take a while, we have decided to start small and build our way up to something more elaborate in the future," added Kondos.
In addition, the students are still in the process of customer discovery and pivoting as they acquire feedback from would-be customers and their I-Corps mentors.
A majority of the motivation behind the students' desire to continue exploring the Omni Directional Treadmill comes from the easy, cooperative and helpful relationship that they have with their ARL mentors.
Kondos and Moscariello are excited about the potential and possibilities associated with this technology and are highly motivated to explore the future of a totally immersive virtual reality system that more closely replicates human locomotion.
Faughn noted that if the students start a business based on the next generation locomotion device, it would be a huge success not only for the students and the university, but for ARL in the fact that the patented technology would have been the driver and impetus to take the technology to a paradigm shift or to the next level of performance that is currently unknown.
As for ARL's continued work with the Omni Directional Treadmill, the lab has plans to advance the technology for the benefit of the Warfighter as well as work to obtain a more robust and immersive environment that would open areas of new research and investigation for the scientists and engineers at ARL and for the non-government side of academia and commercial applications.
This partnership, when viewed along with the lab's Open Campus initiative and moto of "Discovery, Innovation and Transition," signifies a prime example of how cooperation between ARL and academia can lead to the growth of a business that was never before considered; a business that takes an idea and turns it into a marketable solution for both military and societal needs.
For additional information on the DC I-Corps program, visit http://www.dcicorps.org/.
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, 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. For more information, visit www.arl.army.mil, follow @ArmyResearchLab on Twitter and follow the lab on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ArmyResearchLaboratory.