Robo-Raven may one day fly for Soldiers

John W. Gerdes III, mechanical engineer at the Vehicle Technology Directorate, prepares to fly Robo-Raven at Aberdeen Proving Ground’s Spesutie Island Robotics Research Facility on Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, Nov. 3, 2015. (U.S. Army photo by C. Todd Lopez)

By David VergunArmy News Service

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Nov. 6, 2015) — In the future, it’s possible that some unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, might sport wings that flap like a bird or a butterfly.

The Army Research Lab, or ARL, is testing that concept at the Spesutie Island Robotics Research Facility on Chesapeake Bay.

John W. Gerdes III, mechanical engineer at the Vehicle Technology Directorate, has been testing such a UAV, known as Robo-Raven. He designed the vehicle in collaboration with the University of Maryland.

During an open house Nov. 3, Gerdes took Robo-Raven for three test flights. He held it aloft in his hand, sort of like a falconer might do. With the other hand, he switched on the transmitter — the sort found in hobby shops for drones and toy vehicles.

The wings started flapping immediately as soon as he threw it aloft. Up and away it went, flapping around in a light breeze more like a butterfly than a bird. A gust blew it backward, but Robo-Raven made course corrections on its own so that Gerdes continued to maintain nearly full control of its flight.

After a minute or two, a curious raptor, possibly a hawk, circled Robo-Raven from above. At this point, Gerdes decided to land his mechanical bird. He raised his arm, and Robo-Raven obediently landed on his outstretched hand.

Raptors, if given the chance, will destroy Robo-Raven, he said. Once in the past, he said he flew his bird up to about 300 feet and a falcon dive bombed it, destroying its gossamer wings.

Once the falcon disappeared, Gerdes launched a second flight. This time, a flock of seagulls circled it. Gerdes noted that non-birds of prey will come over to investigate, but will not attack Robo-Raven — at least not yet.

Unfortunately, Gerdes’ landing didn’t go as smoothly as the first and it crashed into the grass nearby. Fortunately, his half-pound bird sustained no damage. Observers wore hard hats and goggles, just to be safe.

Had his Robo-Raven been destroyed in a crash or by a raptor, Gerdes had two backups, each of which looked similar, but were slightly different in shape and size for testing.

The third flight went well and landed back in Gerdes’ hand.

Army unveils Excalibur, one of the world’s top 20 supercomputers

Army officials said more powerful computers will allow the DOD research community to develop solutions to the most difficult technological challenges. (U.S. Army illustration)

By Dan Lafontaine, RDECOM Public Affairs

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Oct. 16, 2015) — The U.S. Army introduced its newest supercomputer, Excalibur, which will help to ensure Soldiers have the technological advantage on the battlefield, officials said.

The Excalibur is the 19th most powerful computer in the world. About 50 officials gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory Department of Defense Supercomputing Resource Center.

Increased computational capabilities will allow researchers bring improved communications, data and intelligence to Soldiers in the field, said Maj. Gen. John F. Wharton, commanding general of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

DARPA’s Warrior Web project may provide super-human enhancements

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Warrior Web program seeks to create a soft, lightweight under-suit that would help reduce injuries and fatigue and improve Soldiers’ ability to efficiently perform their missions. (DOD photo)

By David McNally, RDECOM Public Affairs

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Dismounted Soldiers carrying full battle gear are pushed to their physical limits. Soldiers often heft 100 pounds or more of essentials. How the Soldier of the future maintains a decisive edge may lie in innovations developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA.

“That load is a critical issue,” said Lt. Col. Joe Hitt, a former Warrior Web program manager. “In Warrior Web, we want to explore approaches which make that kind of load feel, in terms of the effort to carry it, as if its weight has been cut in half. That’s the goal.”

DARPA launched the Warrior Web program in September 2011, seeking to create a soft, lightweight undersuit to help reduce injuries and fatigue while improving mission performance.

“The number one reason for discharge from the military in recent years is musculoskeletal injury,” Hitt said. “Warrior Web is specifically being designed to address the key injuries at the ankle, knee, hip, lower back and shoulders.”

Army researchers have been evaluating prototype devices for DARPA at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

Researchers from Harvard University’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering spent the past several years developing a biologically inspired smart suit that aims to boost efficiency through a new approach. A series of webbing straps contain a microprocessor and a network of strain sensors.

Spc. Rafael Boza, a Soldier from the 1st Infantry Division, tests the prototype smart suit on a three-mile course of paved roads and rough terrain at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., Oct. 3, 2014. (U.S. Army photo by Tom Faulkner)

“The suit mimics the action of leg muscles and tendons so a Soldier’s muscles expend less energy,” said Dr. Ignacio Galiana, a robotics engineer working on the project.

Galiana said the team looked to nature for inspiration in developing cables and pulleys that interact with small motors to provide carefully timed assistance without restricting movement.

DARPA selected the U.S. Army Research Laboratory to evaluate several Warrior Web prototypes at the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research facility, or SPEAR.

Army researchers explore laser detection techniques

Army researchers explore laser detection techniques
ADELPHI, Md. — As the need for chemical, biological and explosive detection becomes more relevant in today’s world, the U.S. Army Research Laboratory is leading the effort in laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, which is capable of highly advanced materials analysis.

The technology has shown significant advancements since its inception in the 1980’s. Today, LIBS technology is used for multiple purposes, including the 2011 mission to Mars, detection of chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, and explosive material, and materials matching in forensic cases.

Dr. Andrzej Miziolek and his collaborators in ARL’s Advanced Weapons Concepts Branch are at the forefront of standoff detection pertaining to trace amounts of hazardous materials using the LIBS technology. Their work is an important example of applying spectroscopy to difficult problems in chemical analysis.

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Quantum ghost imaging podcast

Ron Meyers, quantum physicist at the Army Research Laboratory.

Ron Meyers, quantum physicist at the Army Research Laboratory.

An Army researcher discussed a new way of seeing objects that were once hidden from sight Oct. 28 on episode 41 of the DOD’s Armed With Science live blog.  Army Research Laboratory quantum physicist Ron Meyers and his team are credited with taking quantum ghost imaging from a physics curiosity and making it a discipline with many applications. Quantum ghost imaging creates an image by calculating the light patterns coming from the object, rather than seeing the object in the conventional sense. Meyers said that by using virtually any light source from a fluorescent bulb to the sun quantum ghost imaging can give a clearer depiction of objects by eliminating atmospheric conditions that conventional imaging can’t. The podcast is on blogtalkradio.  A larger version of the photo shown here, as well as an example of a quantum ghost imaging photo are available on our Flickr stream.

The Tank-Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center will be featured on the next episode of Armed with Science.  TARDEC’s Dr. Thomas Meitzler, will discuss how this sensor-enhanced armor could provide Soldiers with better situational awareness 2 p.m. Nov. 4.