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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Academics & Research

General visits UH for research presentations that could help military

During the virtual reality demonstration, electrical engineering assistant professor Aaron Becker showed examples of animals he believes drones should model so they can avoid being shot down. | McKenzie Misiaszek/The Cougar

Chancellor and President Renu Khator and representatives from colleges across campus filled the Student Government Association Senate Chamber Wednesday afternoon to present research to high-ranking members of the armed forces.

Each college at the presentation has been researching technologies and behaviors that have the possibility to help propel the military into the future with new ideas. 

“Part of the problem we are trying to address is the army is very much living in the past,” said General John Murray, the commanding general for the Army Futures Command and the top official at the meeting. “The major equipment we have was, really from a technology standpoint, it’s been updated over time, but the foundational equipment is from the ’60s.”

The technologies of each college’s presentations are unique to what they do and teach students.

The College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences told the attendees about the research they were conducting on PTSD and other mental health problems military members may experience during and after combat.

The College of Engineering explained camouflage they were working on that would change colors along with the environment.

“We’re also looking at camouflage so that your outfits change colors to mimic the environment,” said College of Engineering Associate Dean for Research Hanadi Rifai. “My joke, if I’m allowed to, our camouflage is red on Fridays.”

Faculty research members gave demonstrations of items they have been working on and explained how they can help the military.

One of the presenters, College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics Associate Dean for Research T. Randall Lee, showed how his college and researchers had figured out a way to quickly heal wounds with a light that will cause minimal damage to the victim.

Another presentation showed the visitors how virtual reality is helping researchers gain data around drone flight patterns. The VR setup looks like a video game. People put on the goggles and use a handheld controller to shoot down drones in the simulation.

“We’re interested in how should we design swarms of drones to act so that they are difficult for an adversary to be able to shoot down,” said electrical engineering assistant professor Aaron Becker. 

The last presentation of the day was shown by electrical engineering professor Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal. His research team showcased robotic exoskeletons, which have a wide range of uses. He hoped the exoskeletons could help those with spinal cord injuries or even one day allow people to control them remotely so they could do tasks without a soldier being there.

Murray said he and his officers had been traveling to colleges in the Houston area, including UH and Rice, to listen to research presentations.

The Army Futures Command aims to push the military into the modern era with new technology and methods to help protect the United States.

Army Futures Command leads a continuous transformation of Army modernization in order to provide future warfighters with the concepts, capabilities and organizational structures they need to dominate a future battlefield,” according to their website.

The meeting closed with a few questions and a prediction of what the future may hold for the University of Houston.

“(In 10 years, I hope) we will be ranked in the top 50, the technology bridge is making $150 million a year, that 80 percent of our faculty are at the very high end of activity and research and our students’ graduation rate is 75 percent,” said Vice President for Research and Technology Transfer Amr Elnashai. 

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