Army scientists pick top 10 coolest advances of 2020

U.S. ARMY RESEARCH LABORATORY

Science Business Announcement

ADELPHI, Md. — Last year had its share of science and technology advances from Army researchers. The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, now known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory, the Army’s corporate research laboratory, has the mission to operationalize science for transformational overmatch.

“The COVID-19 pandemic challenged us all this year,” said the lab’s chief scientist, Dr. Alexander Kott. “Despite that, our scientists and researchers made groundbreaking discoveries in 2020 that will strengthen and protect our future Soldiers.”

The lab’s leading scientists picked the coolest advances to showcase how Army scientists and researchers are supporting the Soldier of the future with a top 10 list from 2020. View the Top 10 video on YouTube: 

Number 10: X-ray-like imaging system to see through barriers

How about Superman-like X-ray vision in the form of goggles for Soldiers? New Army-funded research is looking at how to make this a reality.

Researchers created an imaging system to see objects through environmental barriers, like sand. They shine an ultra-fast laser through a barrier and read back the reflected photons, assembling an image of what was behind the barrier in just fractions of a second.

Existing imaging capabilities are limited to relaying back objects in two dimensions, but this new research will show objects in three dimensions, giving Soldiers more accurate situational and threat awareness in degraded visual environments. This could help future pilots fly through sandstorms, and robots navigate through fog.

“Previous efforts were at very small distances, and with very heavy and complex methodology,” said Army researcher Dr. Hamid Krim. “This is more of a macro scale, and it could be used on large or small moving platforms.”

Number 9: Levitating, freezing atoms to further quantum networking

Using laser beams, Army researchers levitate atoms and freeze them to the coldest temperatures on earth, nearly absolute zero. Patterns of quantum information are stored in the frozen atoms, creating quantum holograms that can be retrieved. From this, researchers developed a new way to solve a critical challenge in quantum entanglement.

The resulting holographic quantum memory is a building block for future Army quantum networks with exponentially more powerful capabilities in computing, sensing and communications.

“Quantum networks are completely different than anything that currently exists,” said Army researcher Kevin Cox. “The internet is the network right now, and it possesses certain capabilities. Quantum networks will have completely different capabilities and will access a piece of the universe that we have not been able to access before. It will lead to computing power that will be orders of magnitude more powerful than anything that currently exists.”

Number 8: An ultra-thin, flexible switch to access highest 5G frequencies

A new ultra-thin radio-frequency switch could provide access to the highest 5G frequencies and enable 6G connectivity and beyond.

Building off a material the Army discovered 10 years ago, research partners developed an atomic switch that is capable of connecting to the best available frequencies. It is more than 100 times more energy-efficient than what is used today and can transmit data at speeds up to 100 gigabits per second–speeding up how quickly users can do things like stream high-definition media and increasing average battery life substantially.

“This switches between frequencies, similar to tuning frequencies on a radio,” said Army researcher Dr. Chakrapani Varanasi. “The increased bandwidth and frequency range are unmatched–yet it consumes a fraction of the energy than what is currently used.”

The one-atom-thick switch is a fraction of a nanometer, and flexible, so it is easily integrated onto wearable systems as a laminate on Soldiers’ uniforms with negligible extra weight. This could revolutionize the way the Army communicates, and could be integrated into satellite systems, smart radios and across the Internet of Things.

Number 7: Autonomous sensors configuring mesh radio network

Imagine autonomous, independent sensors could create their own radio network in a remote location. Army scientists are working on technology that will provide Soldiers with situational awareness through a unique autonomous mesh networking solution. Dropped sensors on a battlefield autonomously form their own network to route communications back to a place of interest, whether it is a command post or a lone Soldier.

This radio network created on-the-fly requires little to no user intervention, adapts to local conditions and is more than 20 times more energy efficient than conventional Army radios–meaning Soldiers can carry less and communicate better.

“Soldiers carry so much weight, and radio and batteries comprise a significant amount of that load,” said Army researcher Ron Tobin. “A capability like this could be much more energy-efficient, which could improve communications for longer durations but also lighten the load for Soldiers.”

Number 6: Real-time object detection model

Like autonomous cars are able to detect their surroundings, Soldiers need real-time scene understanding at the tactical edge. Using artificial intelligence and machine learning, Army researchers developed a novel object recognition model to immediately detect objects of interest.

Sensors deployed on platforms such as drones or ground vehicles capture images and video. The model locates and identifies these objects, processing information on the spot–even where computational processing is limited. Soldiers are then alerted to suspicious activities in the surrounding area.

“Our model can process five to six frames per second, which is comparable to the current state-of-the-art,” said Army researcher Dr. Heesung Kwon. “But we use multiple classifiers that can detect objects better than existing models.”

This capability enables rapid decision-making, reducing mission risk, and could be integrated into future Soldier eyewear.

Number 5: Electrical nudge to help brain

Sometimes we could all use a little stimulation to kick-start our brains. Army and academic researchers found how a subtle electrical nudge helps the brain reorganize its activity to rapidly adapt and better make decisions. Inspired by dynamic network techniques, researchers used this nudge to bypass the normal human sensory and cognitive pathways.

“This is changing the information flow through connections in the brain and can help us understand how the brain operates, especially in groups,” said Army researcher Dr. Javier Garcia.

This research lays the groundwork for improved teaming with intelligent agents–with possible future neuro-technologies that could prevent or predict behavioral mistakes or assess individual cognitive performance to keep our Soldiers sharp.

Number 4: AI to predict aircraft damage and failure

Army helicopters perform some of the most daring maneuvers in some of the most dangerous places in the world. Keeping the fleet in peak performing condition is critical.

Army researchers studied 15 years of flight patterns–more than 1.3 million flights from 4,000 UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters–and identified more than 100 different types of maneuvers. They connect which specific aircraft parts undergo the most wear and tear during these maneuvers. The result is a robust AI model predicting with nearly 100% accuracy which critical parts will fail, how and when.

“We know critical parts on an aircraft have finite life,” said Army researcher Dr. Mulugeta Haile. “We can use this data to effectively predict the best time to maintain an aircraft–by looking at how it has been flown rather than how much it has been flown.”

This significantly reduces costs to sustain the existing fleet–and most importantly, also identifies catastrophic damage before failure, improving mission outcomes and protecting our pilots.

Number 3: Intelligent swarming drones

Researchers look to nature to emulate the perfect dynamic flying formation.

Army and academic researchers develop autonomous, omniscient-like, swarming drones that can reason and make the best decisions without human interference. Equipped with cameras, these drones look around and see each other, and independently reason about each other’s size, distance and motion. The agents then communicate with each other. Through a form of machine learning, they imitate each other and decide how to reach the ideal collective goal.

“The agents have to learn how to process what they see, how to talk to each other and how to move, all through imitation,” said Army Senior Research Scientist Dr. Brian Sadler.

This could lead to completely autonomous cohesion and decision-making to assist our Soldiers in the most critical situations.

Number 2: 3D printed munitions

3D printing revolutionized the convenience and speed at which everyday people create everyday objects. Army scientists pioneer the 3D printing frontier with first-of-its-kind polymers for energetics and metals–including the highest-strength steel ever made–to develop the next generation of munitions.

They were first in the world to demonstrate 3D structural circuit manufacturing that will revolutionize munition fusing and sensing, while also saving weight and space.

“We are printing materials no one else has ever printed, and new geometric designs that open up the trade space for munitions,” said Army researcher Dr. Jason Robinette.

But how durable are they? These 3D printed munitions have high-G survivability–withstanding the most extreme accelerations that even current munitions can’t match. This will help soldiers in extreme environments and tomorrow’s battlefield.

Number 1: Intelligent, navigating munitions

Army researchers use the latest technologies to create the most intelligent munitions that navigate to and hit moving targets. With onboard sensors, actuators, and an imager, a munition runs an algorithm on the tip of the artillery piece as it flies to its target.

Current systems rely on GPS to navigate to a specified coordinate. This munition enables moving the flight path–both in initial guidance and mid-flight–improving the munition’s range and speed to hit a moving target.

“This research will enable us to penetrate faster and have more maneuverability so that we can evade threat systems and reach the target,” said Army researcher Dr. Frank Fresconi.

This will be a crucial element to ensure the Army’s dominance on land, on sea, and in the air.

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DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. As the Army’s corporate research laboratory, ARL is operationalizing science to achieve transformational overmatch. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more successful at winning the nation’s wars and come home safely. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the Army Futures Command.

From EurekAlert!

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January 16, 2021 at 12:32AM

Command & Control: Subsidised Wind Power Central to Britain’s Great Socialist Reset

As Margaret Thatcher put it: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.”

That adage, however, doesn’t appear to trouble Britain’s current PM, Boris Johnson, whose plan to squander a further £50,000,000,000 on subsidies and over-the-market contracts for intermittent offshore wind power beggars belief.

But that colossal crony-capitalist boondoggle, is a mere snip by comparison with the £3 trillion that he’s planning to squander on an effort to completely remove carbon dioxide gas from the British atmosphere – well, at least the kind generated by all human activity, that is.

Andrew Montford takes a look at the numbers in order to get a grip on the cost of Boris Johnson’s ‘net zero’ CO2 plan for Britain.

Honesty is needed on the huge costs of attempting “net-zero”
Conservative Home
Andrew Montford
5 December 2020

Politicians can be divided into those who like to spend big (and posture), and those who know what a dangerous course that is. The Prime Minister might well complain about being labelled one of the big spenders; it is, after all, hardly his fault that his time in office has coincided with a pandemic. He would surely argue that the bill for keeping the country on its feet – around £350 billion – was a case of spending through necessity.

However, the bill that will result from Boris Johnson’s plans for another a major cut in greenhouse gas emissions cannot be waved away so easily. Quite what it will cost is unclear, but we can get some sense of the scale of what is planned from recent work on the costs of total decarbonisation of the economy. When the Government announced its net-zero plan 18 months ago, it was on the back of a recommendation from the Committee on Climate Change, which said that the cost was modest, amounting to only £50 billion in 2050. Unfortunately, they later admitted that they hadn’t actually calculated the cost of getting us to net-zero at all. Some time next year, they be appearing before the Information Tribunal to explain their refusal to release the calculations they used to persuade the Government that decarbonisation could be done on the cheap.

The Treasury and BEIS have bandied around their own estimates of the bill, with figures of £1 or £1.5 trillion quoted in the press. However, like the CCC, they too have refused to reveal their calculations to scrutiny. Despite the lack of clarity, numbers of this magnitude seem to have gained a certain currency in Whitehall. A report from the National Audit Office, published this week, speaks of having to spend “hundreds of billions”.

Apart from the secrecy over a matter of vital public concern, even a brief consideration of what needs to be done shows that all of the Whitehall estimates are so absurdly low as to smack of an almost complete lack of numeracy, or worse, a complete lack of honesty, among senior civil servants. It is simply impossible that decarbonisation can be achieved for a few hundred billion, or even a trillion pounds. Take domestic heating, for example. The cheapest way to achieve decarbonisation will be through use of air-source heat pumps, which will cost over £10,000 each to install. Putting them into 35 million homes by 2050 will therefore cost at least £350 billion – another pandemic’s worth of spending. Upgrading the electricity distribution network to deliver the extra demand will cost another £200 billion, more than the annual cost of the NHS.

So if we are spending £550 billion installing heat pumps alone, it’s fairly obvious that decarbonising the whole economy is going to come with a bill that is at least order of magnitude higher. And as if to confirm this idea, earlier this week, National Grid published the first serious official attempt to cost the project, putting the figure at around £3 trillion.

It is noteworthy that the underlying calculations for this estimate also remain unpublished, but £3 trillion may be the correct order of magnitude. However, the figure is obviously wildly understated, because of some absurd input assumptions, such as the cost of building offshore windfarms – the core of a decarbonised power system. The Grid assumes that these will set us back just half what they actually cost according to published financial accounts. Looking forward, they say the cost will fall still further, while windfarm developers are reporting that there are no cost reductions on the horizon.

It seems clear then, that net-zero is going to be much more expensive than the Grid says. My own work at GWPF suggests that we are going to be spending £3 trillion on electrification of heating and private cars alone between now and 2050. We will probably spend nearly the same amount again on decarbonising electricity generation, and then there is industry and agriculture and freight and air transport and trains and shipping to come.

It’s hard to comprehend numbers of such magnitude, but £3 trillion amounts to £100,000 per household, and we could easily end up spending double that amount. So you can get a sense of the pain that is coming. And remember, this is only the capital cost. Householders will also have to swallow a doubling of the cost of motoring and a tripling of domestic fuel bills. The price of everything will soar.

What is worse, there can be little doubt that spending on this scale cannot be achieved in a free society. Net-zero is, in effect, a programme for the conversion of the UK to a command economy, with all that entails for civil liberties and hard-won freedoms.

Johnson might protest that the tab for the pandemic was simply unavoidable, but when it comes to assigning the blame for runaway net-zero spending and the economic ruin and loss of liberty that his environmental policies will bring about, there will be nobody else to blame. Poverty will be our lot, Johnson will be the man who will be cursed for being its progenitor, and the Conservative Party will be swept aside for being responsible for the social and economic carnage.

Still, as we look back, we will at least be able to console ourselves that Johnson was the last of the big spenders, because there will simply be no more money to spend.
Conservative Home

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January 16, 2021 at 12:30AM

Polar bears can come ashore any time of year and cause trouble: a timely reminder

From Polar Bear Science

Posted on January 14, 2021 | 

If you thought polar bears were only a danger to people in summer when sea ice is low, think again. Bears do occasionally come ashore early to mid-winter looking for food because hunting is difficult and they are approaching their leanest time of year. They simply walk from the ice onto land – often close to communities – because many things associated with modern human living are food attractants for polar bears.

This tracking map of Western Hudson Bay bears (females with collars) 11 January 2021 (courtesy Andrew Derocher) shows a bear just offshore near the community of Whale Cove on the northwest coast – close enough to come ashore if she decides that could be in her best interests:

Derocher had this to say about the location of this bear (12 Jan 2021):

I thought the same thing… Let’s hope it stays out of trouble. It’s a bit odd to have a bear so close to shore at this time of year. There are harbour seals in the flaw lead so that’s a possibility. Bear do what they want to do…

— Andrew Derocher (@AEDerocher) January 12, 2021

It may be ‘odd’ for a bear to be so close to shore in winter but since we know that polar bears do come ashore in winter, it isn’t rare but ‘uncommon’. Most of the trouble with bears ashore seems to come in March/April on the coast of Labrador and Newfoundland when sea ice is more extensive and where 2017 was an exceptional year.

TROUBLE WITH BEARS IN JANUARY/FEBRUARY:

2019 Labrador, Bears reported onshore in Labrador (January 2)

2019 LabradorBears onshore in Labrador causing problems (February 1)

2019 Alaska, Polar bear attack hundreds of miles from shore (January 15)

2016 LabradorBears onshore in Labrador (7 February)

2016 Summary of prior incidents and attractants (19 March)

Below: Sea ice conditions at 13 January 2021, North America compared to 2020 and 2019, showing how extensive the ice was in 2019 (and accounting for bears ashore at Labrador and Newfoundland in early January):

Below is a chart from 1985, when sea ice off Labrador and Newfoundland was as thick in mid-January as it was in 2019, yet as far as I know, there were no reports of bears ashore in Labrador or northern Newfoundland. This difference is almost certainly because the population size of Davis Strait bears had not yet recovered from previous centuries of overhunting and harp seals numbers were still quite low compared to what they rose to over the next three decades: currently, both Davis Strait polar bears and harps seals are abundant (DFO 2012, 2014, 2020; Peacock et al. 2013) and numbers could still be climbing, although the results of a recent bear survey in the region has not yet been published.

REFERENCES

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) 2012. Current status of northwest Atlantic harp seals (Pagophilus groenlandicus). Science Advisory Report 2011/070.

Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada DFO. 2014. Status of Northwest Atlantic harp seals, Pagophilus groenlandicus. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2014/011.

DFO. 2020. 2019 Status of Northwest Atlantic Harp Seals, Pagophilus groenlandicus. DFO Can. Sci. Advis. Sec. Sci. Advis. Rep. 2020/020. http://www.isdm-gdsi.gc.ca/csas-sccs/applications/Publications/result-eng.asp?params=0&series=7&year=2020 PDF here.

Peacock, E., Taylor, M.K., Laake, J., and Stirling, I. 2013. Population ecology of polar bears in Davis Strait, Canada and Greenland. Journal of Wildlife Management 77:463–476. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jwmg.489/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

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January 15, 2021 at 08:45PM

Interview with Tom Harris about the state of polar bear conservation Part 2

Here is the second part of a great conversation I had recently with Tom Harris from iHeartRADIO (‘Exploratory Journeys with Tom Harris’) about polar bear conservation, the price I’ve paid for speaking out about polar bears and my new polar bear science book, The Polar Bear Catastrophe That Never Happened. We also talked about my polar bear attack thriller, EATEN. Have a listen to the podcast here! Part 1 is here in case you missed it.

 

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January 15, 2021 at 07:55PM