Army scientists pick top 10 coolest advances of 2020


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.


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!

4.7 10 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Joel O'Bryan
January 15, 2021 11:19 pm

C’mon Man!! We don’t need all that stuff now that China Joe will heal our international relations and go on an Apology Tour v2.0, and have a Climate Kumbaya in April to return us to bad ‘ole days of Obamanomics and economic stagnation.
Besides Dementia Joe will sell it all to China and sit back and watch the PLA take Taiwan by force.

Doug Huffman
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 16, 2021 4:08 am

The PLAndemic continues apace.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 16, 2021 5:47 am

“Besides Dementia Joe will sell it all to China and sit back and watch the PLA take Taiwan by force.”

Yeah, during Traitor Joe’s term, the Chicoms won’t even have to steal our inventions, ole Joe will just give it to them.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Tom Abbott
January 16, 2021 9:26 am

Hunter got $10M for the family enterprise with 10% for the Big Guy from the CCP. Now ‘ole China Joe will let the Chicom’s PLA take Taiwan without the 7th Fleet “interference”. Quite a nice ROI for China.
Makes Hillary’s selling US uranium assets to Putin for kickbacks to the Clinton Foundation look downright amateurish.

oeman 50
Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
January 16, 2021 8:58 am

He’ll just put it on a server with no security in his basement. Oh, that’s been done before? Never mind!

Peta of Newark
January 16, 2021 1:44 am

Shakes head
Somebody is..
a) Quite devoid of diplomatic and social skill
b) Quite paranoid and delusional
c) Full of themselves and their own importance
d) Utterly terrified of everybody else (on this planet)
e) Dazzled by shiny new expensive toys
f) Voting as turkeys do, not only for Demented Joe, but also Christmas
g) On a headlong dash to get to ‘Christmas’ before anyone else does (selfishness)
h) Convinced that ‘Technology’ is The Answer to everything

Lets just examine, with examples (h)
Tesla. need i say more?
UK Police
Boeing 737max

What if, in the Battlefield of the Future, The Bad Guys (TBG) became aware of a swarm of 8, 9 or even zillion G drones coming their way.
Even just 5G has very short range and only in straight lines
So, lets suppose that TBG set up a Honey Trap – a methodology as ancient as ancient can be and perfect for things that occur in ‘swarms’
Initially, the trap will be ‘Off Target’ but could possibly move.
Would the swarm follow it and if it got close enough, attack & mercilessly destroy it – as programmed
Fine. Fantastic. Just what was wanted.

But what if that moving target honeytrap stopped moving, lets say withing 20 metres of The Barn Door that is – what – The White House
(My school was called The White House, check it out. Place name of Brampton)
And what sort of critters do you find, behind Barn Doors?

But but BUT, we have Modern Warfare technology, here, just In Time as is The Modern way, to save us all
(Doesn’t that describe Superman almost perfectly)

Enquiring Minds ‘might’ like to know exactly just roughly, what was going on here:
“”Police describe a ‘medieval battle‘””
From here:

A battle that was somehow allowed to go on for hours
Remind me, how long would it take a Russian Tomahawk to get from Cuba to Miami?

magical Thinking will be The End of us.
Its even in the Top 10 Army Advances for 2020 (words fail, what do they think they can see perfectly)
At #10, Superman is now a requirement for being In The Army
But especially #5 nails all my abc… points perfectly
Just quit eating sugar, cooked starch and alcohol and NONE of this would be needed

How’s it going out there.
Upon my exhortations, many of you started a Dry January – 381 days ago.
What’s it like in the Real World.
How do you manage to negotiate, physically, mentally and socially the legions of Zombies that you now see?
Have you noticed the difference between Empathy and Sympathy and the utter utter futility of Mendacity.

Freedom Feels Good don’t it.
And its nice/useful/handy to have a functioning memory, for a change
Please tell me you remember.
Please, or you condemn yourselves exactly as I predict, via Chronic Depression and the resultant paranoia

Last edited 2 years ago by Peta of Newark
Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Peta of Newark
January 16, 2021 8:50 am

Even just 5G has very short range and only in straight lines”

Hmm. I have a 5G signal, inside my house, and do not have line of sight to the tower.

Rainer Bensch
January 16, 2021 4:45 am

Typical EurekAlert! nonsense.

Number 10:

“They shine an ultra-fast laser…”

yes, it’s faster than a fast… let alone a slow one.

“… assembling an image … in just fractions of a second”

does it also make click?

Number 9:

Usual quantum handwaving, also called science fiction

Number 8:

Switching frequencies alone doesn’t increase bandwidth. It just confuses an enemy and/or avoids jamming.

If you want more baud for the tick you have to use a modulation technology like n-QAM (n=16 | 64 | 256 |…) where 4, 6 or 8 bits, respectively, can be coded per symbol.

…and so on.

Reply to  Rainer Bensch
January 17, 2021 1:22 pm

“Fast laser” in this context means an extremely short pulse. This technology has been used for decades underwater, including in murky water; doing it in dirt would be quite an advance on that. As for your snide comment about “click”, assembling an image from laser pulses is difficult, and can be slow, when each individual pulse gives you only a small amount of information.

Rainer Bensch
Reply to  mcswell
January 18, 2021 1:26 am

Well, yes. I would use pulses of different lengths to filter out the huge noise coming back from reflections of the wall(s). Did I now leak a secret?

Tom Abbott
January 16, 2021 5:40 am

From the article: “Number 5: Electrical nudge to help brain
Sometimes we could all use a little stimulation to kick-start our brains.”

I think Biden and about half the population of the United States needs an electrical brain nudge.

I wonder if the military has studied meditation? That’s supposed to change the electrical activity in the brain, at least temporarily.

oeman 50
Reply to  Tom Abbott
January 16, 2021 9:00 am

We call that “coffee” in my house.

Tom Abbott
January 16, 2021 5:44 am

The invention the U.S. military should be focusing on the most is develping the ability to prevent the Chinese communists and our other enemies from stealing all our inventions and intellectual property.

At the present time, we invent it, and the Chicoms steal it.

Jack Morrow
January 16, 2021 6:17 am

They don’t have to steal-some of good citizens sells it to them.

Reply to  Jack Morrow
January 16, 2021 6:36 am
Reply to  Jack Morrow
January 16, 2021 6:49 am


January 16, 2021 8:48 am

Meh. The most impressive to me is the Deepmind AI system. It can now learn the rules of the game by observation alone. Not only do they not need to teach it the rules first but it is beating some of its predecessors.

Reply to  TRM
January 18, 2021 10:35 am

Can you explain why AI (or any kind of Intelligence) is not available for “live captioning” on TV news broadcasts?

I spend significant time most days fast forwarding through tv newscasts from several national broadcasting systems (I couldn’t stand to watch all this garbage in real time), always with captions enabled.

When I stop to listen and watch something conceivably informative, this is what I get:

a delay of 17 to 30 seconds before the relevant captions appear

words hopelessly misspelled

properly spelled words used in a way that makes no sense

proper names mistaken for nouns or simply left out, and vice versa

numbers distorted unbelievably in context

whole sentences and even paragraphs of audio amputated when the “live captioning” runs out of time and ‘decides’ to jump ship to the next story

These errors regulary occur in broadcasts from the USA, UK, Canada, France, Switzerland and Belgium, in English and in French. So much so that it’s impossible to rely on the message conveyed by the captions, even when one takes the time to replay and/or pause them.

January 16, 2021 2:31 pm

Modern warfare is not modern.
You still have to hold ground.
Recent urban conflicts in Mogadishu or Marawi, rebel groups have been able to inflict serious casualties on more advanced armies.

Another example is Afghanistan which is no easier to take today as it was centuries ago.

January 16, 2021 4:41 pm

Number 1: Intelligent, navigating munitions

Great, a bullet with my name on it.

January 16, 2021 5:27 pm

Number 4: AI to predict aircraft damage and failure

So, how much difference do maintenance issues make? Actually, it’s huge.

A technique McNaughton had developed to measure the wear on cannon barrels and make adjustments to their aiming proved to be vital on April 9th, 1917. As the battle commenced, the combination of accurately plotted German gun positions and deadly accurate Canadian artillery fire led to precise strikes that eliminated over 80% of enemy artillery and machine guns, significantly blunting their defenses. As the infantry attacked, precise artillery fire allowed the effective implementation of the creeping barrage which proved vital to the success of the infantry advance.

Rolling barrages had been tried before, but never succeeded. Until McNaughton found a way to compensate for barrel wear, half the artillery would have been dropping shells on their own troops.

January 16, 2021 10:01 pm

Better ways of killing people. Whoopee.

Reply to  RoHa
January 17, 2021 5:04 am

Or perhaps better ways of keeping other people from killing you.

No dumb bastard ever won a war by going out and dying for his country. He won it by making some other dumb bastard die for his country. link

How many wars did President Trump get us involved in?

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  RoHa
January 17, 2021 2:34 pm

Also, most of this stuff makes it into the private sector in short order. The IR cameras used by police and firefighters began as military systems.

John Tillman
Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
January 19, 2021 11:02 am

The spoked wheel came from war chariots. The screwdriver was invented to attach armor. Hifi from sonar. The list is long of military to civilian technology transfer.

%d bloggers like this:
Verified by MonsterInsights