General Dynamics C4 Systems in Scottsdale will officially open a laboratory today that the company bills as the first devoted specifically to developing new technologies for infantry soldiers.
Called the EDGE lab, the center intends to bring “cutting-edge technology to the tactical edge of the battlefield” more quickly through the joint efforts of government, industry and academic researchers, said Richard Coupland, General Dynamics business area manager for Warrior Systems.
Member organizations and companies will be able to use the lab to test and integrate their new technologies with war fighting systems that General Dynamics is developing for the U.S. Army, he said. That will allow Department of Defense planners to see first hand the benefits those developments might bring if they were included in the soldier’s equipment, he said.
“Most large programs can take two or three years to bring to the field, and during that time the technology is advancing around you,” Coupland said. “In parallel, we will be able to make the customer (the Department of Defense) aware of emerging technologies that could be inserted without impacting the timeline of the main program.”
As an example of the type of improvement that has already been achieved using the concept, Coupland said the company developed a control unit to operate a soldier’s computer, positioning system and helmet-mounted eyepiece, replacing four electronic boxes with one box. The improvement will reduce the size and weight of electronic gear carried by U.S. soldiers into battle beginning next year while also reducing the cost of the gear, he said.
As technology advances, equipment upgrades will continue to be made available to the Army, he said.
Among the innovations included in the 7,000-square-foot lab is an immersion theater that can replicate battlefield scenarios. The theater includes a replica battlefield command center, a wrap-around screen to simulate combat scenarios and an engineering viewing table to evaluate the technology.
Among the 12 organizations that have agreed to join the EDGE consortium are Arizona State University, including its Flexible Display Center in Tempe, which is developing flexible computer screens that could someday be attached to the sleeves of soldiers’ uniforms.
Also joining the group are GECO, a Mesa-based computer software and hardware developer; and Silverado Cable Co. of Mesa, a producer of wire harnesses and cable assemblies.
Among companies that are candidates for membership is Armor Holdings, which makes lightweight body armor to protect U.S. soldiers at a plant in Phoenix.
Sean Martin, senior vice president of business development for Armor Holdings, said the lab will help identify gaps in technology, indicating where development efforts should be focused.