ARL researcher brings expertise to new Manufacturing Innovation Institute

Army Research Laboratory engineer Dr. Shawn Walsh is part of the team that developed the new Manufacturing Innovation Institute. | U.S. Army photo by Conrad Johnson, RDECOM

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – The Department of Defense awarded the 14th Manufacturing USA institute— the Advanced Robotics Manufacturing Innovation Hub— to American Robotics, Inc. Jan. 13. The eighth DOD-led institute, the ARM Institute joins the Manufacturing USA network in its collective effort to help revitalize American manufacturing and incentivize companies to invest in new technology development in the United States.
Based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the winning consortium— comprised of state and local governments, industry, universities, community colleges and non-profit organizations from across the country— contributed $173 million, to be combined with $80 million in federal funding.

Army Research Laboratory engineer Dr. Shawn Walsh was part of the team that developed the new Manufacturing Innovation Institute.

Walsh, along with other scientists and engineers from across the Department of Defense and other federal agencies including NASA and National Institute of Standards and Technology, began developing the scope, vision and thrusts for the Robots in Manufacturing Environments MII in early 2016. Research at the DOD-led Institute is expected to improve U.S. competitiveness in manufacturing through advancements in the smart and collaborative robotics fields.

Walsh pioneered materials and manufacturing technologies now used in every new ballistic helmet for the Army, Marines, Special Operations Forces and Navy SEALS as part of a collaborative effort with DOD’s Manufacturing Technology Program, known as ManTech, the Department of the Army, the Army’s Program Executive Office Soldier, the Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center and industry. He said his work in developing helmet manufacturing technology is often used as a DOD-wide example of the impact materials and manufacturing science can have.

In 2013, he pioneered and today continues to lead the Robotic Augmented Soldier Protection research at the Weapons & Materials Research Directorate at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. This research, he said, is looking at new uses for unmanned assets in a purely protective role instead of the typical drone usage focused on surveillance and lethality. The RASP research is establishing the science and technology needed to dynamically array the human and robotically-deployed protection materials and mechanisms based on the location of the threat. This will provide a totally new mode of “Manned/Unmanned Teaming” to increase Soldier survivability and capability.

“At the heart of RIME is the desire to rapidly move promising technologies off the lab bench and into the commercial manufacturing sector, and to make robots safer and more effective so they can interact with humans. The goal is to empower American workers and businesses so they can bolster domestic productivity and global competiveness by making state-of-the-art robotic technology accessible and affordable,” said Walsh, who currently serves as the Vehicle Materials Research Area leader.

The technologies developed in this institute will be primarily focused on making advanced manufacturing more competitive, addressing DOD needs and improving prosperity in the United States. The Institute will focus on technology areas such as human robot interaction, adaption, learning, manipulation, autonomy, mobility and perception.

“Colleagues around ARL and the Army working in robotics know that I have been pretty anxious to bring ARL’s materials, manufacturing science and protection concepts to the autonomous systems research community. I’ve kind of been like that pet store puppy that keeps wiggling until it finds its place with the rest of the litter,” shared Walsh. “RIME will provide ARL and the Army with unprecedented opportunities for technology exchange and transition not just in materials and protection, but also for ARL’s broad and pioneering robotics research in areas like autonomy, mobility and human-robot teaming.”

Last fall, ARL defined Human-Agent Teaming and Science of Manufacturing at the point of need as two of its essential research areas, which are also two essential themes to RIME. RIME will consist of a vast array of pioneering universities and companies across the country.

DOD agencies like ARL, the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center in Michigan, the Research Development and Engineering Command in Maryland and the U.S. Air Force are expected to become key contributors to and collaborators with this Manufacturing Innovation Institute to tackle difficult problems together.

“In that sense, it is not unlike ARL’s Open Campus/Open House,” Walsh said.

ARL’s Open Campus/Open House business model introduces researchers in the science and technology community to ARL’s research scientists and engineers for collaboration. The business model also creates access for external researchers to ARL’s specialized laboratory facilities that are available to support joint research.

Walsh was also recently invited by Elsevier Publishers Ltd. to co-edit a book with Dr. Michael S. Strano, the Carbon P. Dubbs Professor of Chemical Engineering, Department of Chemical Engineering Massachusetts Institute of Technology from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the area of novel materials, manufacturing science and new multifunctional capabilities for robotics and autonomous systems.

By Army Research Laboratory