By Katie Lange
DoD News, Defense Media Activity
Technology is key to making sure our military remains the finest fighting force in the world, so it’s no surprise that the Defense Department has some amazing researchers who are doing great things to keep those advancements coming.
Each service branch has several research labs across the country that focus on specific technologies. I could break down what each of those do individually, but that would be a really long list. So for now, I’m just going to fill you in on what each of the main labs does and give some examples of the cool things they’re working on.
The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command has several labs that focus on what our land forces eat, wear, fire and drive. Its premier laboratory is the Army Research Lab; however, all of its labs provide technological solutions for current operations and those that will be needed for the next generation.
Here are two examples of what the Army’s labs are working on:
Cockroach-inspired robotics: In conjunction with the University of California, Berkeley, the ARL is developing a small robot called CRAM (compressible robot with articulated mechanisms) that mimics a cockroach’s ability to squeeze into confined spaces in complex terrain, such as rubble from natural disasters or explosion sites that first-responders can’t access. Researchers are also working on the bot’s ability to right itself if it falls over – something that would be a valuable asset for soldiers on the battlefield.
Occupant-Centric Platform CAMEL vehicle: In the past, military vehicles were engineered around functionality, with crews conforming to those conditions. But the Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center is working on a vehicle called a Concept for Advanced Military Explosion-Mitigating Land Demonstrator – CAMEL, in short. It’s an eight-wheeled platform that can protect soldiers from explosions, post-blast crashes and rollovers with advancements like improved maneuverability, more space to stow weapons and equipment, better seats to reduce spinal cord injuries and floors that aren’t coupled to the hull.
The Air Force Research Lab is leading the discovery, development and integration of warfighting technologies for our air, space and cyberspace force. Its many labs work on technologies such as missiles, unmanned and hypersonic vehicles, laser systems and high-power electromagnetics, and their breakthroughs can be found in all of today’s modern military aircraft and weapons systems, including the C-17 Globemaster III, F-22 Raptor and B-2 Spirit.
Some of the AFRL’s newer technologies include:
BATMAN: The Battlefield Air Targeting Man-Aided kNowledge – BATMAN – program focuses on wearable and portable technologies for airmen. BATMAN includes the Battlefield Airmen Trauma Distributed Observation Kit, or BATDOK, which lets a pararescue jumper monitor the vital signs of wounded service members with sensors and a tiny wireless computer that’s worn on the jumper’s forearm.
“Vigilant Spirit” Remotely Piloted Aircraft: This program is developing drone technology that lets a person fly more than one remotely piloted aircraft at the same time. The technology is meant to be able to do more with fewer people – a force multiplier, in a sense.
The Naval Research Lab leads the Navy and Marine Corps in research for maritime applications, as well as ocean, atmospheric and space sciences. It’s organized into five directorates – four that conduct scientific research and a fifth called the Naval Center for Space Technology.
NRL scientists and engineers are current developing technologies like laser and directed energy systems and alternative and synthetic fuels, as well as the following:
An Industrial human augmentation system: Also known as the iHAS, this wearable exoskeleton is being developed by the Naval Surface Warfare Center to help those who do manual work on ships, like sanding or blasting a hull or spray-painting a wall.
Electromagnetic railguns: This technology is part of a major effort to develop a long-range electromagnetic launcher for a future electric ship. The EMRG would eliminate the need for storing and handing dangerous explosives, and it could possibly reach targets 20 times farther than conventional weapons like cannons and cruise missiles.
FERRET: The Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is working on this technology, which has a much longer name – but you’ll probably be lost by the time I finish writing it, so I won’t bother. The FERRET is a semi-autonomous robotic system for reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition. It can map locations remotely and doesn’t need to be driven like other robots.
Several of the DoD’s labs also work to protect service members from chemical and biological threats, including working on regenerative medicine that builds skin substitutes and restores damaged limbs.
There are so many cool things our labs are creating that will help make a more efficient Force of the Future. To learn more about all of the DoD labs, click here.
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