Maryland senator discusses partnering for innovation during ARL Open House

U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen gives a keynote address for the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Open Campus Open House Oct. 19, 2017, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, shedding light on the value of military innovation. | U.S. Army photo by Jhi Scott, ARL

ADELPHI, Md. — U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen gave a keynote address that shed light on the value of military innovation during the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Open Campus Open House at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Oct. 19. 2017.

ARL was able to share the value and opportunities of Open Campus with more than 850 participants from academic institutions, government agencies and businesses through extended sites and streaming participation during the two-day event.

“The Army Research Lab and its predecessors have been at the cutting edge of basic and applied research for the Army and for the country for over 100 years,” Van Hollen said. “The research has contributed to giving our Soldiers technological advantages on the battlefield.”

Van Hollen showed the advances in technology by contrasting Vietnam War Soldiers who were sent to do the dangerous job of clearing underground systems of complexes to tunnel rats; to the more recent mission of the Marines in Afghanistan who used robots equipped with sensors to explore Taliban cave networks.

Packbots built by iRobot in collaboration with ARL, were deployed to conduct reconnaissance without exposing Marines to the same danger that existed in the 1960s. “Undoubtedly, that technology developed at the Army Research Lab saved lives,” he said.

Van Hollen also mentioned the Forward Area Language Converter, or FALCON, developed by ARL and used for deployed forces to rapidly translate captured documents and analyze them for intelligence value on the spot.

Today, ARL is working toward advances such as developing the building blocks for human/robot teaming; making batteries less toxic; and creating headgear sensors that indicate when a Soldier needs a break.

The breakthroughs at ARL give Soldiers and Marines a decisive edge, he said.

“It all starts at the lab with ideas and concepts that are bounced around by experts in the field, people like all of you in this room, trying to envision what might be possible,” Van Hollen said. “And what Dr. Perconti and his team are doing here is energizing that collaboration, energizing it by breaking down the silos that in many cases have separated the defense world from everyone else.”

ARL’s Open Campus Open House business model was designed four years ago to attract the best minds in academic research and in the commercial sector to work with the Army in ways that are mutually beneficial.

“It’s an opportunity for all of you in this room to help the lab with its mission,” Van Hollen said. “But it’s also an opportunity to benefit from your collaboration. The lab is going to continue focusing, as it should, on technologies that serve our warfighters in future conflicts, but they realize that the intellectual property and the new technology that are developed here may also have tremendous commercial value and that the private companies are in the best position to discover and capitalize on new markets for those technologies.”

Van Hollen, Maryland’s junior senator, mentioned his state’s culture of innovation and research, with 70 federal research labs, a cyber technology and additive manufacturing presence and an Army innovation hub at Aberdeen Proving Ground. He also talked about the strong bi-partisan support within Congress for robust research and development that will lay the foundation for strong national Defense.

“The senator talked about a lot of federal facilities in Maryland,” said Philip Crowell, ARL team leader in human sciences research. “It was very good to know that he has an interest in what goes on within ARL and within the research community.”

Crowell, who was at the event presenting his research, recently established a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, with a collaborator at Brigham Young University in Utah based on his poster from the year before that was on display on the Open Campus Open House website. In this agreement, he will be coupling the extensive data that his team has collected about how people walk with statistical modeling conducted by his new research partner. Their goal is to identify certain transitions in the gait that will be helpful to Army researchers who are developing physical augmentation systems like exoskeletons.

“Open Campus Open House is a good opportunity to establish connections with potential collaborators,” Crowell said.

Open Campus reestablishes the kind of openness and transparency within the Army research community that leads to more face-to-face collaboration on projects that have military and civilian implications. Since its inception, the approach has led to faster approvals for researchers to work together within the partnering mechanisms that are used to do business with the federal government.

By Joyce Martin, Army Research Laboratory