Soldiers, academia team up to solve tactical troubles
An easy-to-use exoskeleton that can reduce or even eliminate injuries to a soldier’s back.
An AI-activated radio, which finds the right frequency spectrum for clear communication, data transfer and to avoid continuous jamming of the enemy.
These are just two projects that the military hopes to see real progress when it brings troops together with university researchers, scientists and special teams of developers in a new military program called the Catalyst-Pathfinder.
Dr. Arwen Deconstanza, with the Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command, manages the program, which has already paired troops from units in the 18th Airborne Corps in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, with researchers associated with Vanderbilt University.
The universities of North Carolina and West Virginia are also a combination of partnerships.
A version of the program launched in March 2020 with Army Futures Command, but has so far shifted to direct focus with the 82nd Airborne Division, also in Fort Bragg and the 101st Airborne Division, in Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
Deconstanza told the Army Times recently that the early focus now is to bring together universities close to the army so that soldiers can participate in the very early stages of research.
Some of the problems they are trying to solve come from a prioritized list of common technical or tactical challenges observed in multiple units. Other problems come directly from the supply of troops to the higher command.
“We really focus on gathering problems from the unit, not necessarily from the top generals in charge of the units,” Deconstanza said. “But from soldiers who are in the field and say, ‘This is a problem. I want to work to solve this problem. “
Soldiers can use a QR code to represent the problem they face, and a designated “innovation officer” in the unit reviews the documents before releasing them to the chain of command, she said.
On the other hand, researchers in academia are working with the real constraints that soldiers and units face every day, Deconstanza said. Many research projects may face a conceptual challenge and fail to address the obstacles that the end user has to face until much later in the process.
One of the early projects transferred from the AFC Catalyst pilot program was the Soldier Assistive Bionic Exosuit for Resupply, or SABER. This project paired Vanderbilt with 101st.
The researchers looked at data showing that more than 84,000 cases of back injuries are diagnosed each year, the main cause of injuries in the military.
According to the program, almost a quarter of all reported injuries to the musculoskeletal system are on the back. And 90 percent of these back injuries are due to overuse.
Beginning in March 2021, Soldiers in 101 provide data on the limits of their strength and endurance with manipulative means, especially air attack missions, identified as a key source of “congestion and fatigue” that can lead to injuries. .
SABER has developed a soft, lightweight device that fits and does not require batteries.
For a period of 12 months, researchers must assess physical performance during logistics activities such as loading equipment or moving equipment. They will then work through prototype design and testing before building and testing a final prototype at both Fort Campbell and the Joint Preparedness Center in Fort Polk, Louisiana, according to Catalyst. release.
On another technological front, the program has embraced what began as a challenge at the Agency for Advanced Defense Research Projects, and puts troops together to advance in what radio can do.
Currently, overcrowded spectrum means a lot of work for the operator to find the right spectrum, slow and long-term data transfer and jamming vulnerability.
Xtremis is a company working with the Institute for Civil-Military Innovation through Vanderbilt to solve the problem.
Advanced Dynamic Spectrum Radio, ASDR, is an attempt to use software-defined radio technology with activated intelligence to “sense and predict the local radio frequency environment in real time.”
The device is not a new radio, but instead is slightly attached to existing radio stations in the army inventory. ASDR will also prioritize communication traffic in the network based on radio and information type and will continuously adjust the network to optimize for the best error correction, modulation, frequency, bandwidth and power, according to a statement from the Army Research Laboratory. .
Martin Wilson and Shane Van Wingardt, Xtremis’ chief and technical officers, spoke with the Army Times about the project.
Simply put, Wilson said, the project aims to accept the current communication situation from “lack of spectrum to abundance of spectrum.”
At the moment, he said, the spectrum is so overloaded with radio frequency transmitters at the tactical level and jamming the enemy that radio operators are constantly faced with challenges in passing traffic.
Automated radio tuning will help radio stations find the right spectrum to use. They estimate that the right solution could open up five times the bandwidth currently available.
This would allow better video transmission, a growing need for Multidomain operations.
The specific challenge was part of a major problem dating back to the DARPA challenge that began in 2013. But Xtremis is adapting their approach to what is recognized by operators in 101st, Martin said.
Wingardt added that, technically, working directly with military experts on the development of ADSR gives researchers a “real understanding of what the problems are.”
Over the next six months, Xtremis will conduct tests to find the best hardware for the device. They will then identify how soldiers will use the device and what measures they will need to assess performance before developing management and control interfaces to work with existing platforms.
The team will then integrate old radio stations, develop protocols for the use of network spectrum and finalize the design of the ADSR to meet military requirements, according to ARL. statement.