DoD sponsors and lab scientists develop innovations to safeguard troops.
Richard Robertson has a better understanding than many of the importance of moving technology rapidly from the laboratory to the battlefield. In 2005, Army Master Sgt. Robertson was severely injured while serving in Iraq. He was later awarded the Purple Heart. The attack that injured Robertson and killed four of his comrades was carried out using an improvised explosive device, or IED.
Now an engineering analyst with ORNL's Global Security Directorate, Robertson serves as a liaison between Department of Defense sponsors and laboratory scientists who are developing innovations designed to safeguard troops and save lives. His knowledge of the Army's techniques, tactics and procedures enables Robertson to translate the Army's unique needs for ORNL's researcher staff. "We have situations where a researcher will have a great idea, but it weighs 600 pounds," Robertson explains. "Obviously a guy out in the field can't carry 600 pounds, so we work across research groups at the laboratory to engineer a more practical application of the technology."
Because he knows how soldiers combat IED threats on a daily basis, Robertson spends considerable time working with defense sponsors and researchers to develop technologies that meet the threat posed by roadside bombs. One of the issues the military has had to address related to protecting troops from IEDs is how to add armor to vehicles that were not designed to carry the extra weight. When standard steel armor is added to a vehicle, the extra weight can overwhelm the engine and transmission, affecting the vehicle's performance and durability. Fortunately, laboratory researchers have engineered a lighter alternative. "ORNL researchers have developed a way to fabricate lower-cost, lightweight titanium composite panels for use in Humvee doors and vehicle armor," Robertson says. "We are also involved in testing this equipment to ensure that it's hard enough to protect the people in the vehicles." ORNL materials scientists are also investigating promising options for other ultralight composite materials that are as strong as titanium.
In addition to helping ORNL research staff understand how soldiers in the field operate, Robertson also lets his Pentagon sponsors know precisely which laboratory technologies show promise for meeting their needs. "Often they are simply not aware of what ORNL can do," he says. "The laboratory has so many developments in materials, electronics and in a number of other disciplines that they are hard to keep up with."
Reflecting on his work, Robertson says, "When we see a promising technology, we push it up through the system to our customers. This is important work. These are technologies that can save lives."