The U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC), established in 1998, is the research organization of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. ERDC conducts R&D in support of the soldier, military installations, and civil works projects (water resources, environmental missions, etc.) as well as for other federal agencies, state and municipal authorities, and U.S. industry through innovative work agreements.
The ERDC helps solve problems in civil and military engineering, geospatial sciences, water resources, and environmental sciences. Facilities range from supercomputers to physical models. The center’s Cray XT3 and XT4 supercomputers are some of the most powerful and fastest in the world, with a capability that exceeds 3.5 quadrillion calculations per second.
ERDC’s seven research laboratories function as integrated teams of engineers and scientists to address a broad range of science and technology issues — from operating in Arctic temperatures and vehicle mobility in desert sands, to protecting wetlands and pinpointing the exact location of an artillery round.
Research and development is conducted in five major areas:
1. Military Engineering
Military Engineering provides technologies and capabilities to the warfighter to enable force protection and maneuver. This area develops novel, lightweight, rapidly constructed protection systems that can be expediently deployed in remote locations. From the research and development of these innovative protection systems, survivability decision aids have been developed to not only allow for rapid assessment of current protection postures but also to provide enhanced designs to increase defense against attacks.
Researchers have designed advanced numerical methods for characterization of blast fragmentation and mitigation on structures and have evaluated the effects of weapon systems based on worldwide building construction material types. Using Department of Defense (DOD) high-performance computing (HPC) capabilities, researchers developed physics-based numerical simulations for evaluation of sensor performance in complex geo-environments and advanced simulation capabilities that allow for evaluation of manned and unmanned ground vehicle performance.
Researchers are investigating sensor modalities that will allow for monitoring and assessment of critical infrastructure used for entry and maneuver in theater.
2. Environmental Quality and Installations
This area’s approach is to advance and exploit science and technology to maximize the long-term contributions of the built and natural environments to the Army’s readiness and operational success. Solutions focus on highly sustainable and cost-effective approaches for the lifecycle management of military lands, ranges, and infrastructure.
Technologies enhance the warfighter training experience, reduce training land restrictions, improve soldier safety, provide for efficient use of limited resources such as energy and water, and facilitate sustainability planning with local and regional communities.
3. Civil Works and Water Resources
This area provides environmentally sustainable solutions to the nation’s water resources challenges and helps provide safe and resilient communities and infrastructure. Technologies help manage existing water resources infrastructure sustainably in the face of expected climate change and land use change, invasion by exotic species, demographic shifts, and aging structures.
Tools and resources improve the flow of commercial navigation traffic on waterways, rebuilding locks and maintaining channels, reducing the risk of damage to life and property from flooding, and protecting fish and plant life.
4. Geospatial Research and Engineering
The Geospatial Research and Engineering area provides the data, analytic tools, information, and decision framework capabilities to ensure situational awareness of the battlespace environment for the warfighter. It arms soldiers with information superiority so they can accurately and quickly gauge battle-space environment effects on personnel, platforms, sensors, and systems. Research includes terrain analysis for signal and sensor phenomenology, geospatial and temporal information, geospatial reasoning, and imagery and geodata science.
5. Engineered Resilient Systems
The Engineered Resilient Systems area combines advanced engineering techniques with high-performance computing to develop concepts and tools that significantly amplify design options examined during early stages of the acquisition process. Techniques result in trade spaces that can be generated in hours rather than months and are thousands of times larger and hundreds of times more accurate than those created via traditional methods.
Designs are also resilient — systems are dependable, easily modified to meet future mission goals, and possess a predictable lifecycle. Research has been applied to analyses of fixed-wing planes, rotorcraft, ground vehicles, and ships.
Engineers have invented a 3D concrete printer that can create buildings. It can print with multiple different materials including homogeneous materials such as cement paste or heterogeneous materials such as concrete. It uses an additive manufacturing process to “print” semi-permanent structures in a theater of operation. The Automated Construction of Expeditionary Structures (ACES) has the potential to reduce building materials shipped by half and reduce construction manpower requirements by 62% when compared to plywood construction.
The Army conducts risk assessments to determine safe levels and cleanup target levels for military relevant compounds (MRCs). ARAMS™ is a highly adaptable, computer-based dynamic modeling and analysis system that can assess future or time-varying human and ecological health risks using measured or predicted exposure data, making it an indispensable resource for those managing sites for compliance and sustainment. ARAMS can also be used to conduct site-specific assessments including screening or comprehensive risk assessments.
The Computational Test Bed (CTB) is a suite of 3D physics-based, high-fidelity models to predict and improve the performance of current and future force sensor systems when detecting surface and near-surface objects in complex environments. The CTB helps users understand the geophysical phenomena behind the signatures detected by sensors operating in the electromagnetic spectrum. It models the physical processes at work in the environment and how these processes affect signatures sensed by passive and active sensor modalities.
An intelligent heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system was developed that is located within an architectural structure. When sensors (or a human operator) detect an “incident” (e.g., a contaminant is detected or an unexpected breach occurs in the structure that may be associated with the introduction of a contaminant), the HVAC system recalculates airflows for the structure. If the newly recalculated airflow so warrants, the system protects the structure’s occupants from the airborne contaminant by changing the airflow through the structure (e.g., it closes a shutter in the air ducts, turns up a fan, or redirects airflow to a standby filtration system).
Researchers developed a system to extract potable water from waste materials utilizing waste-heated air streams. The system efficiently captures the water vapor from waste materials such as waste-water, brine, and sludge through an accelerated evaporation process utilizing desiccants.
A team developed portable radiation detectors that provide directional sensing using electronic collimation. The technology has applications such as quickly locating hidden, buried, or submerged radioactive materials floating in a water body. The prototype sensor demonstrates that electronic collimation is possible in a small and lightweight form factor with a good signal-to-noise ratio.
A high-spatial-resolution, high-sensitivity pressure sensing system for dangerous and difficult-to-access locations consists of a visible light laser source with 5-mW power and a nanocomposite pressure sensor with quantum dots embedded in the sensor matrix. Under pressure, the quantum dots in the sensor matrix fluoresce when illuminated by the laser. A spectrometer detects the fluorescent signals and transforms them into a digital format. The data processor then calculates the actual fluorescence intensity ratio and compares it against intensity ratios and pressure values in a coupled database.
The ERDC Office of Research and Technology Transfer oversees the transfer of research and development technologies and products to the private sector.