DOD Lab Day highlights RDECOM innovations

The Third Arm, developed by the Army Research Laboratory, is a passive mechanical appendage that interfaces with a Soldier’s protective vest and counterbalances the weight of weapons and other tools. | U.S. Army photo

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Army showcased science and engineer innovations that are being developed to provide technological overmatch for Soldiers during the second biennial Department of Defense Lab Day at the Pentagon May 18.

With more than 80 exhibits from across the services, the Army was represented by the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s seven centers and labs that featured their latest research in the Pentagon Center Courtyard.

During opening remarks, Mary Miller, acting assistant secretary of defense for research and technology, said, “Our scientists and engineers of today and tomorrow are doing a magnificent job, rising to a need of hard challenges facing our Warfighters.”

DOD scientists of the year

Three scientists from RDECOM were recognized for their contributions to the Army.

Dr. Pesce-Rodriguez, an Army Research Laboratory research chemist and ARL Fellow, received the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Advocate of the Second Quarter 2017 for her work with various programs, including Chemistry in the Library, ARL’s summer intern program and symposium and other Army Educational Outreach Program and STEM initiatives.

Dubbed the world’s first crash test dummy for use in under-body blast testing, the Army Research Laboratory has developed the Warrior Injury Assessment Manikin, or WIAMan. The fully functional prototype can accurately determine the potential effects of blast on Soldiers in new vehicle systems. | U.S. Army photo

Dr. Kang Xu, an ARL research chemist and ARL Fellow, received the Scientist of the Second Quarter 2017 for his collaborative work with University of Maryland scientists for his summary of high-voltage aqueous electrolyte materials that have lifecycles similar to current state-of-the-art lithium batteries.

Dr. Christopher Darling, ARL research chemist was recognized as Scientist of the Fourth Quarter 2016 for his discovery of high copper alloy structures. This discovery enables advanced applications that require exotic materials to be replaced with more common alloys.

The Applied Research for the Advancement of S&T grant, a $45 million grant that will extend over a three-year period, was awarded to the Defense Optical Channel program for new applications that maximize the use of optical channels that ensure resilient, jam-resistant communications. The multi-service recipients were: Dr. Jim Daniel, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command, Dr. Linda Thomas, Naval Research Laboratory and Dr. Julie Smith, Air Force Research Laboratory.

Autonomous systems — manned/unmanned teaming

Developing autonomous robots that can operate in challenging multi-domain environments is a key project for RDECOM’s ARL Robotics Collaborative Technology Alliance. The team is developing both the RoboSimian and RoMan, two robots that will change how Soldiers fight in the future.

Visitors watched the RoMan, an autonomous system with treads and two arms, as it lifted objects that weigh more than 50 pounds, then moved to other objects, picked them up and carried them.

The RoboSimian, a unique ground robot with arms that can perform whole-body movements such as sit behind the wheel of a truck and climb stairs and ladders, was also featured at Lab Day. With limbs that are 50 percent faster than the original version, the updated RoboSimian is currently being tested.


Visitors lined up to sample a Meal-Ready-to-Eat nutritional bed-time snack bar, which was developed at Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center for Soldiers with low vitamin D levels. The new snack bar boosts calcium and vitamin D levels, which help prevent bone injuries.

Other samples included lemon poppy seed pound cake with additional omega-3 for improved cognitive performance and teriyaki meat sticks that are high in protein.

Warrior Injury Assessment Manikin

Dubbed the world’s first crash test dummy for use in under-body blast testing, ARL has developed the Warrior Injury Assessment Manikin, or WIAMan. The fully functional prototype, scheduled for delivery in 2018, can accurately determine the potential effects of blast on Soldiers in new vehicle systems.

The WIAMan test manikin was displayed next to the Hybrid III legacy crash test dummy that was developed by the automotive industry in the 1970s.

The WIAMan will be crucial to Soldier readiness — the Army’s number one priority — by optimizing and improving the protection and survivability of ground vehicle systems; evaluating the effects of under-body blasts on mission-critical tasks; and quantifying the risk to Soldiers by helping to design vehicle and personal protective equipment that may reduce Soldier mortality and promote quality of life outcomes.

Protective gear

The Edgewood Chemical Biological Center featured various new masks that are being developed to protect Soldiers against new and emerging threats in the field. Celebrating its 100th anniversary, ECBC continues to lead the design, material, filtration and test technology that supports both fielded and developmental mask systems. In addition to protecting Soldiers on the ground, chemical and biological protective gear, including masks, also protect Army pilots and aircrews.

The Layered Sensing Initiative, an early warning system that sends near-instantaneous information into the Joint Warning and Reporting Network, which warns units of a possible chemical or biological threat, was also displayed.

Dismounted Soldier power

Soldiers are often required to carry large quantities of batteries to operate the devices they need to support a mission. The Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC, displayed portable power and energy technologies, including conformal wearable power sources (battery and fuel cell), energy harvesting devices (high-efficiency solar panels and kinetic components) and intelligent power management.

By lessening the dependence for power and energy support, these technologies benefit Soldiers at remote dismounted or expeditionary base camp operations, including those in austere locations.

Tactical augmented reality

Working together, CERDEC and ARL are developing technologies such as tactical augmented reality, which blends the human environment (reality) with artificial elements (augmented) to communicate real-time information. Instead of a completely new landscape, AR gives ‘real life’ an added twist by adding overlays onto a device.

With tactical augmented reality, Soldiers have a clear view of the battlespace with integrated mapping, which shows potential enemy and friendly unit locations, navigation and 3D surface models.

At Lab Day, CERDEC demonstrated a current prototype tactical augmented reality system and showed a video that highlighted the future of tactical augmented reality for Soldiers.

Third arm-lightweight exoskeleton for weapon stabilization

Seeking to increase lethality for dismounted Soldiers without increasing their burden, ARL has developed a prototype body-worn weapon mount, or “Third Arm,” which was displayed at Lab Day.

The Third Arm is a passive mechanical appendage that interfaces with a Soldier’s protective vest and counterbalances the weight of weapons and other tools. Connected to the front or back of the vest webbing or as an insert that fits into the armor-plate pocket, the Third Arm enables Soldiers to hold the weapon more steadily and for a longer period without arm fatigue, which may result in improved marksmanship. Soldiers can also use high-energy weapons with the Third Arm, since extra weight and recoil is redistributed.

Ballistic combat shirt

Soldiers modeled the prototype Ballistic Combat Shirt, or BCS, which reduces weight by 35 percent and allows better movement, without sacrificing protection. Developed by the Infantry Combat Equipment Team at Natick Soldier Research Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, the BCS has a deltoid section with three panels, and it is contoured, which improves range of motion.

“This next generation Soldier protection system is lighter weight, it gives Soldiers more mobility, better flexibility and an articulated deltoid section,” said Robert DiLalla, an engineer and team leader of the Infantry Combat Equipment Team at the NSRDEC. DiLalla received the 2015 Maj. Gen. Harold “Harry” J. Greene Award for Innovation in the Individual-Civilian category for his work on the BCS.

By Argie Sarantinos-Perrin, Research, Development and Engineering Command

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