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US Army funded 141 new inventions in 2019 – here are a few of them

Source code of a security plugin. Keyboard of computer on the foreground. (Christiaan Colen/Flickr)
April 18, 2020

The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Lab and the Army Research Office backed projects for 141 new inventions in 2019.

The Army Research Laboratory announced the successful inventions in a recent press release. While many of the inventions remain unnamed amidst intellectual property processes, the Army Research Laboratory did reveal some of the inventions, including an Arizona State University-Tempe project for a miniature remotely accessible self-driving car robot.

Dr. David Stepp, the chief scientist at the Army Research Office, told American Military News that one of the projects is Stanford University’s “high-performance ladder polymers for membrane gas separation.”

Stepp laid out the concept of the ladder polymers, describing it as “a polymer that would change color inherently with force.” He said the idea was to create materials that could act as “autonomous reporters” and identify where problems may exist in materials the Army is testing and working to implement.

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Stepp said one day the polymers might identify problems on fabrics like parachutes, potentially rooting out fatal flaws in their construction, or they might be adopted on vehicle engines and other mechanical parts, to identify wear and tear and signal when they need to be replaced.

Dr. Dawanne Poree, the program manager that helped oversee the research behind the ladder polymers said further the idea behind the polymers “is highly relevant to Army/DoD for advanced sensors, environmentally adaptive materials, as well as structural health monitoring.”

Among its other successes in 2019, the Army Research Office has also advanced developments in photonic quantum computing through research at the University of Arizona.

Through funding and support from the Army Research Office, the University of Florida has also helped develop methods to construct, analyze and detect analog trojans which act as hidden malicious modifications on computer circuits that can help cyber attackers steal sensitive information.

Other advancements include breakthroughs by Harvard University in the long-term culture of engineered human pancreatic tissue which can be used for testing the efficacy of new therapeutic drugs.

Stepp said one of the challenges for the Army Research Office is to identify emerging technologies and figure out ways they could one day help soldiers on the front lines.

“Some of the highlights I offer up may not have a technological implementation yet,” Stepp said.

He said he and the program managers at the Army Research Office are largely focused on looking for technology opportunities and providing funding that helps mature the technologies so that, when the day comes that the U.S. Army’s requirements change, they have already helped advance the research to meet the Army’s needs.

“Obviously the Army is driven by requirements but what precedes requirements in Army doctrine and in the Army’s world are concepts,” he said.

One of the ways the Army Research Office helps attract new technology concepts is through the funding and the 1980 Bayh-Dole act, which allows businesses, nonprofits and universities to develop technologies and retain ownership of their inventions while also granting the government license to use those technologies.

The Army Research Office currently has a research portfolio in excess of $450 million. It is partnered with more than 1,000 single investigator research projects, more than 40 multidisciplinary research centers and three University Affiliated Research Centers.

“We cultivate entrepreneurs and facilitate scientific breakthroughs that will provide commanders with opportunities to build game-changing future technology programs,” said Dr. Barton H. Halpern, the director of the Army Research Office. “These inventions demonstrate that. We’re excited to see the impact they will have for the Army of the future.”