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A lot of the systems today are tele-operated. That means a soldier has to spend all of his time essentially controlling a system, in terms of things like PackBot and so on. We want to get away from burdening soldiers in that way, and the work that we're doing largely in support of the FCS program is demonstrating semiautonomous vehicles where they can do a lot of planning and execution on their own and they really only have to essentially call home to a soldier that's controlling it when it needs additional guidance or is posed with a situation it doesn't know what to do or it is at a point in the mission where it really needs further direction so it knows exactly what to do next.
Then longer-term--in fact we're kicking off next year a new collaborative technology alliance at the Army Research Laboratory on microautonomous systems and technologies. That is, to build very small robotic systems on the scale of a hummingbird or smaller than that, things that you can carry in your hand or that can crawl around on the floor--wherever it might be that would provide significant intelligence/surveillance capabilities, particularly in urban environments and in interior spaces--and do it in a very nonintrusive way.
So in building systems that have that in terms of the necessary power, in terms of the compactness of the sensors, in terms of the communications payloads, those are all significant technical challenges that we have to address to really make those systems a reality and useful to the warfighter.
The military in general and the people leading the military tend to be fairly conservative. Do you have to do a hard sell? What kind of an approach do you have to take to get the commanding generals and then, farther down the line, soldiers to accept the new technology?
Killion: It goes back to what I was discussing earlier. In the case of robotics we've sort of inoculated a lot of people now to the idea that robots are a useful capability to have, and the soldiers themselves see the benefit and say, I want more of this kind of capability. Putting some functional capability into their hands--that is, actually provide benefit as opposed to a burden--provides a motivation for even more of that technology or enhancements to that technology.
You do it multiple ways. You convince people with current technologies and evolve that. You do it by prototyping technology. You also do it by giving soldiers exposure to what's going on in our laboratories and centers and with our partners in industry and in academia. We have soldiers who spend time at our Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies up at MIT, for example, who are essentially embedded in the research program up there and get a chance to see the future potential of nanotechnology, how that's going to affect our systems and sensors and electronics and clothing and everything else that we'll have for the future.
How well is the Army modernizing in general, whether it's FCS or Land Warrior or just making use of battery-powered gear, game controllers and so forth?
Killion: I think the Army is doing a very good job of exploiting, wherever possible, technology that's available and adapting that to the environment. As I tell people, we really benefit from technology in three ways. One is because we invested in the past in technology and it's provided a product that's in the field today. Something like a PackBot came from a program at DARPA called Tactical Mobile Robots that was done in the '90s. Our labs then experimented with those platforms and added sensors and control capabilities to them. Then when the war came upon us that technology was available then to be exploited, specifically for things like sending them into caves in Afghanistan or going into interior spaces or as a platform for inspecting potential devices with EOD (explosive ordance disposal) guys, that kind of thing.
Second was adapting programs that we were working on currently like work down at Night Vision on uncooled (infrared) sensors, where we adapted some of those sensor technologies and came up with a cave-and-urban-environments kind of kit--lightweight sensors that could be sent down a well or put on a small robot carried into a cave or worn by a soldier on his helmet going into a dark urban environment. It's really technology that is still being worked today, but it's adapted very rapidly for the field.
And probably most importantly is just the expertise of our scientists and engineers who are out there, both in our labs as well as in our partners' in industry and in academia, who understand enough about the Army and the challenges we're faced with to bring good ideas to the table and then can build some kind of prototype to go do it. The Army has had to adapt very rapidly and we used a lot different mechanisms, things like the REF--the Rapid Equipping Force--and the Rapid Fielding Program down at PEO Soldier to get technology out to the field much more rapidly than we could in the past. A lot of that, as has always been the case, is driven by the exigencies of wartime operation and the need to provide capabilities as quickly as you can to help the soldiers.
How does the Army's own research and development fit in with what goes on at DARPA, The Office of Naval Research, the Air Force Research Lab?
Killion: I work with my counterparts in the other services, the S&T executives and with Tony Tether at DARPA and James Tegnelia, who is director out at DTRA (the Defense Threat Reduction Agency), to try and work at the top-level coordination and collaboration among our programs. Most of that coordination and collaboration really goes on at the working level where scientists and engineers--for example at the Army Research Lab--are very familiar with their counterparts at Air Force Research Lab or the Navy Research Lab or one of the Navy centers, program managers at DARPA. They get together and work on, OK, here is how my program relates to, interacts with, leverages what you are doing there and how we can all make progress more effectively by deciding who is going to do what part of the problem.
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