Innovative Research Advances Army Training, Warfighting
By John Ohab
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2009 Virtual humans, autonomous robots and self-healing armor are just a few research areas that may advance warfighting and provide unprecedented advantages over U.S. adversaries, the Army’s director for Research and Laboratory Management said.
Dr. John Parmentola was interviewed Feb. 18 on “Armed with Science: Research and Applications for the Modern Military” on BlogTalkRadio.com about new areas of scientific research that may provide extraordinary capabilities for soldiers.
Parmentola oversees the Army’s basic research program, comprising 22 Army laboratories and nearly 11,000 scientists and engineers. He also directs laboratory management policy and monitors laboratory performance, infrastructure and security.
The Army’s investment spans 12 research disciplines and 14 technology areas at a variety of institutions, including universities, industries, medical centers and the Army’s own research laboratories.
“The Army’s approach to basic research has always been to try to find the best and brightest people we can find out in the research community to work on problems that are of high significance and relevance to the Army,” Parmentola said. “We invest in people.”
The Army has identified seven areas of research that are vitally important to the future of its soldiers: neuroscience, autonomous systems, nanotechnology, quantum information science, immersive technology, biotechnology and network science. Each of these areas holds the potential to give rise to “disruptive technologies,” that is, technologies that provide a capability that does not exist today.
Parmentola described the Army as a leader in network science research.
“We have networks inside cells, cells network to form tissues, tissues network to form organs, organs network to form organisms,” Parmentola said. “We find this structure and hierarchy in many places, and one goal is to try to understand the fundamental principles underlying these networks and try to exploit them in application.”
Biotechnology and nanotechnology research funded by the Army may eventually lead to advanced armor ensembles that provide ballistic, chemical and biological protection and medical triage capabilities in the combat environment.
“Nature has found solutions to problems through evolution,” Parmentola said. “You can make a lot of product improvements over 4 billion years.”
Parmentola explained how immersive technologies, such as virtual reality, provide simulated environments where soldiers can train in circumstances that would be too difficult or expensive to reproduce in reality. One key challenge is the creation of software-based “virtual humans” that think, speak and interact in realistic scenarios.
In an effort to translate this basic research into military applications, the Army fosters relationships between its research, development and engineering centers and its industry partners.
“The idea is to take advantage of the investments that industry has made in certain areas and also the practicality they bring in transforming research into technology,” Parmentola said.
The small business community plays an important role in the technology transfer process. The Army’s Small Business Program engages a broad range of businesses that develop technologies with a commercial market and direct military applications.
“We actually have a program that helps them and incentivizes them and the users of the technology to adopt it,” Parmentola said. “We try to drive it through incentive toward technology transition."
(John Ohab holds a doctorate in neuroscience and works for the Emerging Media directorate of the Defense Media Activity.)