Tech demos to provide better glimpse of reality for Soldiers, scientists

Top Soldiers at the Army’s corporate research laboratory are looking to shorten the time it usually takes to get feedback on new weapons or information systems that begin in basic and applied research.

Leaders are arranging a series of reality tours intended to engage Soldiers and Army scientists in early discussions around new technology concepts.

Participants will have first-hand opportunities to examine research initiatives within a military context while hearing directly from Soldiers with specialized skills like aviation, artillery and infantry, as well as from researchers who transform science into operational capabilities, according to the senior enlisted advisor at the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory, Sgt. Maj. Luke Blum.

Blum accompanied Soldiers from Team Ignite for visit at the ARL Robotics Research Collaborative Campus, known as R2C2, for experimentation and research operations Feb. 22.

R2C2 sits on about 200 acres of an approximately 700-acre site near Middle River, Maryland. The location, which opened last summer, advances researchers’ knowledge of autonomy and intelligent systems. The specialized proving ground is equipped with state-of-the-art technology that allows for live and virtual collaboration with government, industry and academic partners. Its focus is basic and applied research of unmanned technologies that integrate artificial intelligence, robotics and human-teaming elements.

“Because the campus is designed to explore research questions to inform future Army concepts, it’s mission-critical to familiarize our Soldiers with tests planned at this specific location,” Blum said. “We’re interested in bridging the gap between our awareness of downrange realities and scientific and concept developers.”

During Blum’s visit, Soldiers observed fully-autonomous ground vehicle tests in unstructured environments, such as the densely wooded areas of the proving ground that’s wrought with frequent and erratic terrain changes, fallen branches, large rocks, loose biomass, dense shrubbery, bodies of water and other natural debris and growth. Researchers designed the tests to demonstrate how autonomous ground vehicles can perform operationally relevant tasks like localization, planning, sensory data analysis, mission-specific behaviors, and communication in challenging environments.

“It’s important so they see what’s going on and what capabilities might be coming down the road as well as additional threats that they might be facing in the future,” said Lt. Col. Beth Agapios, military deputy at the lab’s Advancing Concepts Office. “It’s important for the Soldiers to provide their feedback and their understanding of military operations to help with research on these areas.”

The Army stood up Team Ignite in October 2019 to lead a systematic, continuous and iterative process of shaping concepts and capabilities for future warfighting while fostering collaboration between the Army’s largest technology developer, DEVCOM, and the Army’s Futures and Concepts Center (FCC). FCC develops concepts, determines requirements, conducts experimentation and begins integration of the future force to ensure the Army wins in 2035 and beyond.

Blum said the team intends to engage the Army’s Centers of Excellence, National Training Centers and senior leaders as part of ongoing efforts that allow Army researchers to align their efforts toward future technology challenges while sharing current efforts with the military community.