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Army Research Laboratory selects USC institute as base for breakthroughs in science and technology

The initial focus of ARL West will expand on Human Information Interaction such as virtual reality and immersive technology

USC first West Coast University to attract Army Research Laboratory
Current ICT Army-funded research efforts explore the use of camera-enabled quadrotors (drones) and other robotic technologies. (Photo/Stephanie Kleinman)

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) plans to recruit up to 70 researchers to be based at the USC Institute for Creative Technologies in Playa Vista. The recruitment is part of an initiative to spur scientific breakthroughs.

ARL West will be the laboratory’s largest university outpost and the first one west of the Mississippi. It will leverage USC and regional expertise to broaden its abilities for the discovery, innovation and transition of science and technology. ARL, part of the Research Development and Engineering Command based in Maryland, is the Army’s central laboratory for internal and external fundamental research.

“USC’s federally funded computer science research and development has led to technological advances that improve lives for active service members and veterans,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “Today’s announcement serves as recognition that ICT has established itself at the national forefront of this important work and that we have the opportunity to achieve even greater societal benefit through the establishment of this new model of government-university collaboration.”

Interacting with data

ARL West was announced at ARL’s open house at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Part of ARL’s recently launched Open Campus program, it will expand upon ICT virtual reality and immersive technology research through co-location and collaboration.

This collaboration will further develop the work we do for our service members and the nation.

Thomas Russell

“The initial focus of ARL West will be in the area of Human Information Interaction, which involves research into how humans generate and interact with data to make decisions more effectively and efficiently,” said Thomas Russell, director of ARL. “As we develop this new campus, we will also be establishing new relationships on the West Coast with other researchers in academia and industry to augment work ongoing there and work at our other sites. This collaboration, in an open work environment, will further develop the work we do for our service members and the nation.”

ICT was founded in 1999 with a U.S. Army contract to partner with film and game studios to advance the art and science of simulations and computer-supported training. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of service members and veterans have used ICT training systems and health therapies, which include:

  • Bravemind, a virtual reality therapy for treating soldiers and veterans with post-traumatic stress.
  • MILES, a virtual veteran that provides training for social workers who treat service members.
  • DisasterSim, a tool to prepare people for planning and conducting natural disaster response and relief.

“Our partnership with USC leads to solutions for soldiers,” Russell said. “We believe that establishing West Coast research teams at USC and ICT will lead to new research directions, new perspectives, new industry partners and ultimately new discoveries that will help the Army solve current and future challenges.”

The impacts of ICT’s Army-funded research extend beyond the military, including:

  • the latest, low-cost, high-fidelity virtual reality headsets, like Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear and Google Cardboard
  • award-winning computer graphics in movies like Avatar
  • hologram-like projections of Holocaust survivors who answer questions about their experiences as part of New Dimensions in Testimony, an educational collaboration with the USC Shoah Foundation — The Institute for Visual History and Education
  • virtual humans that identify signs of depression or post-traumatic stress.

The area around ICT has been deemed Silicon Beach because of the concentration of creativity and technology companies now based near Playa Vista, Venice and Santa Monica.

No classification

ARL West research will not be classified. Researchers, expected to begin arriving in early 2016, will include locally recruited scientists, students and representatives from other Army organizations.

The exterior of USC ICT’s Playa Vista campus

The exterior of the Institute of Creative Technologies’ campus in Playa Vista (Photo/Steve Cohn)

“This new collaboration will further advance research in emerging areas like robotics, haptics and data visualization and provide a model for building open and diverse teams to tackle complex problems,” said Randolph Hall, USC vice president of research. “It also provides another way for USC to support those who serve our country.”

In addition to the groundbreaking work at ICT, USC has maintained a decades-long commitment to veterans and the military.

The Playa Vista area has a long history of defense-inspired research, much of it developed at the former Hughes Aircraft facilities, at USC’s Information Sciences Institute in Marina del Rey and at ICT.

“Bringing experts from different fields together for a common research goal has been a hallmark of research at ICT and has led to many important technology transitions,” said Randall W. Hill Jr., executive director of ICT. “We are honored that the Army Research Laboratory selected us to expand this type of collaboration and to help them achieve their goals.”

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Army Research Laboratory selects USC institute as base for breakthroughs in science and technology

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