Sensors Provide Broad Application Across Army

Sensors are everywhere in today's technology-driven world. There are sensors in traffic lights, vehicles and smartphones.

Sensors in military applications gather data that U.S. Army researchers hope will give Soldiers the decisive edge.

This technology has broad application across the Army. Medical researchers are investigating how physiological sensors may help Soldiers achieve "superior performance on battlefields of the future," according to Lt. Gen. Joseph Caravalho Jr., former commander of the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command and Fort Detrick. Caravalho led a panel discussion at the Association of the United States Army's Medical Hot Topics Forum, Sept. 10, 2014.

Soldiers of 2025 and beyond may wear sensors to help detect and prevent threats such as dehydration, elevated blood pressure and cognitive delays from lack of sleep, Caravalho said. Sensors might also detect chemical exposure or extreme environments.

Karen O'Connor, Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence portfolio director for the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, said sensor research exists in all of the portfolios.

"There are sensors in imaging, motion detection, radar, chemical-biological detection and more," she said. "At the end of the day, sensors are all about collecting data."

As we look to the future, sensors will become smarter, smaller and cheaper, she explained.

"Our real goal will be to build in multi-functionality," she said. "How can we sense multiple things with a single, integrated system or sensor?"

Nicole Devitt, the C3I portfolio deputy director, said another challenge is how data collected by sensors will become useful information for Soldiers.

"We need to make sensors smarter to give the Soldier the information to do his or her job," Devitt said. "You can have all of this data that's out there, but if you don't have something that simplifies the data and gets it to the right person on time to act on it."

Researchers need to get the right mix of information to Soldiers at the right time, she said.

"We need to consider the cognitive burden," O'Connor said. "The Soldier is under high stress in potential combat operations. At what point does the Soldier become overwhelmed? We have the capability to provide all kinds of information, but what does the Soldier really need to know?"

Scientists at the Army Research Laboratory Human Research and Engineering Directorate at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, are conducting cognitive research.

"It comes down to understanding how humans process information," O'Connor said. "We have to look at the application of the information. Does every Infantry squad member need to see the same picture? We need to ensure that the information provided is not a burden. We have to balance that. It's about controlling the data flow."

One of the Army's enduring challenges is to gather timely mission command and tactical intelligence to provide situation awareness and communications in all environments.

The C3I Portfolio ensures that Soldiers have "trusted and responsive sensors, communications, and information adaptable in dynamic, austere environments to support battlefield operations and non-kinetic warfare."

O'Connor's team invests about $129 million annually in sensor research. Army scientists, engineers and researchers are working from many angles:

  • Electro-optical
  • Infrared
  • Non-imaging
  • Radio frequency
  • Counter sensor/sensor protection
  • Sensor integration

"We can do many things, but we want to do many things with a single system or sensor," O'Connor said. "With Force 2025, we will become more expeditionary and reduce our footprint. We will be more mobile and better prepared to deploy. Instead of deploying 10 sensors, we can deploy one. This is what is driving us as we move toward the future."

The investment strategy is focused on where there will be a unique benefit to Soldiers; however, the pace of technology breakthroughs is reducing costs and providing the Army with better sensor opportunities.

"If industry is developing things that we can leverage, we're not going to invest there," O'Connor said. "Instead, we figure out how be a fast follower. Commercial industry is a big driver. We are not going to put our dollars into something that industry is already doing and maybe doing better because they have a big commercial market for it."

"Our sensors are very advanced," Devitt said. "But, there is still work that needs to be done in terms of making sensors lighter, cheaper and more power efficient."

Better integration is the challenge for future technology, Devitt said. Researchers at Communications Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center Night Vision and Electronic Sensors Directorate are working on an integrated sensor architecture, which will create a common foundation for how sensor data is managed.

"That effort is not developing sensor technology, but it is developing a way for sensors to be more useful," Devitt said.

"It's also about how information is shared," O'Connor said. "It will allow Soldiers to access information that they don't have a sensor for, but because they are on a network or shared architecture, they will be able to get information that they normally wouldn't have."

O'Connor said information sharing will decrease the need for more sensors and result in a smaller footprint.

"In reality, we are reaching technology parity," she said. "Anything we can do to give our Soldiers the edge over someone who has the same capabilities is important. We will develop ways to simplify and process data better. In today's information-based world, sensors are critical. Being able to turn data into useful information will give our Soldiers the decisive edge."

Source: US Army
Date: Jan 5, 2015