Center Invests in AI/ML Research and Development

Center Invests in AI/ML Research and Development

Core Team Gears Up for 2020 Grand Challenge

By Jerilyn Coleman

For the next three years, scientists and engineers at the U.S. Army’s Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (DEVCOM CBC) will explore ways in  which artificial intelligence and machine learning (AI/ML) can help solve chemical and biological defense issues to better protect the warfighter on the battlefield.

The 2020 Grand Challenge is a three-year initiative to educate the Center, provide practical opportunities and promote a better understanding of applications for AI/ML. In the last decade AI/ML has become an integral tool for the warfighter, using data to teach computers to predict outcomes without explicitly being programmed. For example, if a warfighter was pinned down by fire and was unable to search for an escape route, AI/ML could analyze all available data and provide the recommended safest retreat path without him or her having to divert attention from the fight. “What AI/ML can do is consume the data related to those decisions to provide suggestions and confidence to help guide a warfighter on the battlefield,” said Patrick Riley, a research chemist in the Center’s Detection Spectrometry Branch and a member of this year’s core team.

This year’s challenge will be called Software Tools and Educating the Workforce to use AI for Research and Development (STEWARD). “When I read the DoD’s five principles of AI technology to be responsible, equitable, traceable, reliable and governable it reminded me of traits you would want in someone who is a good steward,” Riley said.

In addition to Riley, the core team includes Mark Colgan, executive officer to the Center director; Janet Betters, program manager in the Center’s Test Resource and Integration Group; Samir Deshpande, a senior bioinformatics scientist in the Detection Spectrometry Branch; and Matthew Lux, research biologist in the Center’s BioChemistry and BioSciences Division. From leaders who supported past grand challenges to experts in AI/ML, this team is committed to researching AI/ML tools and methods that will provide better solutions and equipment for the warfighter, faster.

STEWARD’s goal is to equip the workforce with resources to take advantage of AI/ ML methods and the core team will achieve this through education, small projects, infrastructure/tools and communication. As the program ramps up, the team will begin their efforts by offering learning opportunities. “We invite the Center to join us for the educational series, including short videos and in-person invited lectures,” Riley said.

Historically, grand challenges were designed to identify investments that would enable new business areas for the Center. The challenges are a part of a larger Center-wide innovation goal. Teams comprised of investigators from around the Center research various subject areas and are responsible for proposing new programs or ideas as potential grand challenge investments, and the Center’s senior leaders select the proposals that are the most feasible and have the greatest potential to produce tangible results in the next three years.

In 2014, the Center’s first grand challenge project was the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive, Assessment, Science and Technology Laboratory at Edgewood. It allowed scientists to test chemical and biological detectors against substances up to 24 meters away and provided customers with a better way to assess detection equipment before it gets into the hands of warfighters. In 2017, the second challenge, Biological Engineering of Advanced Material Solutions was executed to unite a variety of scientists and engineers from across the Center to form interdisciplinary teams to develop novel materials using synthetic biology.

Going forward, the 2020 Grand Challenge core team will help programs throughout the Center address specific challenges with AI/ML solutions. Ultimately, the team hopes that STEWARD will be established as a voluntary research council that will continue to support the workforce and the DoD in the overarching CBRN defense space as well as developing alternative customer sources and enhancing the Center’s standing in the science and technology community.