JUNE 1, 2021 – The U.S. Army plans to cooperate in artificial intelligence research with teams led by the University of Maryland, College Park and in partnership with the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The cooperative agreement brings together a collaborative of nearly 30 diverse experts in engineering, robotics, computer science, operations research, modeling and simulation, and cybersecurity.
With the Army’s goal of seeking transformational advances in artificial intelligence and autonomy, Army and academic officials said this partnership will “accelerate the development and deployment of safe, effective and resilient capabilities and technologies, from wearable devices to unmanned aircraft, that work intelligently and in cooperation with each other and with human actors across multiple environments.”
“This extensive collaboration convenes a critical mass of expertise within the state, at the University of Maryland, and across the entire University System of Maryland,” said Laurie Locascio, vice president for research at UMD.
The academic researchers will work with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory on an initial 18 projects, each supported by a team of faculty, staff and students, with additional funding for future projects.
“It’s a very exciting alliance that leverages the university’s decades-long research partnerships with ARL to forge a critical pipeline for research innovation and commercialization in the booming ecosystem of robotics, AI and autonomy,” Locascio said.
According to Locascio, the effort builds on a more than 25-year research partnership between UMD and ARL in AI, autonomy and modeling and simulation.
The Army modernization strategy hopes to spur the development of technologies that reduce human workload and risk in complex environments such as the battlefield and search-and-rescue operations.
“This is a big partnership with an ambitious vision: we want to change the world by quickly getting lifesaving autonomy into the hands of the people who need it,” said Derek Paley, lead researcher on the agreement, UMD professor, and director of the Maryland Robotics Center. “No matter how autonomous we think a system is, a human operator will interface with it at some level. The goal is to migrate the dangerous, dirty, and dull work to the autonomous platform.”
The cooperative agreement will stimulate collaborations and leverage university and federal assets and facilities to accelerate advancements in AI and autonomy for mobile and connected platforms in multiple operating domains.
The joint research teams will have access to U.S. Army’s Robotics Research Collaborative Campus, which includes a one-of-a-kind, 200-acre, reconfigurable, multiple-terrain outdoor testing laboratory just north of Baltimore for scalable AI, autonomy and robotics research.
“In an era of rapidly increasing strategic threats driven in large part by global access to science and technology, talent, and resources, the nation that can best operationalize science and do it quickly will have game-changing competitive advantages over their adversaries,” said Karl Kappra, director of ARL’s Futures Division. “ARL is pleased to be initiating this new enterprise with the University of Maryland, College Park and University of Maryland, Baltimore County to engage their talented staff and students to provide the foundations for new artificial intelligence and autonomy capabilities to improve the survivability and effectiveness of America’s armed forces.”
This collaboration will address the Army’s unique challenges and with access to the entire University System of Maryland, it will provide opportunities for new technology insertions while supporting the continued development of our nation’s STEM community, he said.
Future intelligent systems could help in search-and-rescue missions after a catastrophic natural disaster, for example, where establishing risk and response is both urgently needed and assuredly dangerous. These systems, which include networked sensors, wearables and other smart platforms including robots, are complex.
During the course of the partnership, researchers hope to develop shared, standard infrastructure for developing and testing collaborative autonomy—including a virtual proving ground that models and simulates existing facilities to enable a wide range of interactions between virtual and real-world actors.
“Currently, research teams are building their own simulation testbeds to evaluate their own algorithms and systems, which increases cost and delays development of significant innovations,” said Jeffrey Herrmann, co-lead researcher on the agreement and UMD professor. “This collaboration will plan and develop a consistent modeling and simulation infrastructure that will include libraries of simulation models and tools for building and running them.”
As part of another major research effort, the team will design novel approaches to ensuring closer and more trusted human–machine teaming and interaction. The team said this work could bolster technologies such as self-driving vehicles or mobile robots, which combine computer vision and remote sensing, robotics planning and control and other advanced specialties to navigate complex terrains and unstructured environments.
“These are very difficult topics that require extensive but diverse expertise,” said Dinesh Manocha, co-lead researcher on the agreement and UMD professor. “This research and collaboration could be the glue to bring together the amazing students and faculty across UMD’s campus doing exceptional work in AI and autonomy.”
Manocha said the five-year partnership will help to rethink some of these problems from the ground up and possibly develop “next-generation technologies for AI and autonomy.”
The research team also will draw on the expertise of domain scientists, data scientists, and cyberinfrastructure experts harnessing the explosion of available big data to drive novel discovery.
They will develop solutions for AI-based networking, sensing, and edge computing—which brings data storage and computation closer to a location—for the Internet of Battlefield Things, which connects humans with smart technology both on and off the battlefield. In particular, the team will work on strengthening the decision-making abilities of Army AI technology to meet the demands of today’s national defense.
“To make a big impact in the research space, you need long-term, multi-institutional partnerships and collaborations. Working with the University of Maryland, College Park and the Army Research Lab will allow UMBC to collectively advance AI in the military space; we anticipate these technologies will also have civilian use and have a larger societal benefit,” said Aryya Gangopadhyay, co-lead researcher and professor at UMBC.
By U.S. Army DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory Public Affairs