The HRED mission in 2012 can be separated into three large parts. First, there is research intended to improve soldier performance in the future. This work involves research on humans and their capabilities and on human-machine interactions. The most basic and speculative aspects of HRED research fall within this area. Second, because HRED is a center of human factors expertise, it is in a position to evaluate the integration of soldiers and systems within the Army. Importantly, it can help to shape requirements during the acquisition process to ensure adequate consideration of the human dimension. Research within this customer-service aspect of HRED’s work is devoted to improving assessment tools such as IMPRINT. Third, with the inclusion of the Simulation and Training Technology Center (STTC), HRED is assuming an important role in improving the training of soldiers through the use of artificial training environments. STTC’s research involves the development of new simulation tools such as generalizable frameworks that speed development of specific training and simulation tools.
The wide scope of these research areas poses a central challenge to HRED. Given limited resources of time, personnel, and funding, what specific topics should HRED tackle? Of course there are always more topics of interest than can be addressed. Like other research labs, some of HRED’s choices are driven by funding. The ability to perform basic research is dependent on the continued availability of basic research (6.1) funds from the Army.
The Soldier System Panel was charged to assess the scientific and technical quality of the Army Research Laboratory’s (ARL’s) research and development related to its soldier systems mission and to examine how HRED’s work compares to similar work being done externally. As a result, the panel focused its attention on questions about the HRED research that might have an impact on the broader scientific community. This focus is not meant to denigrate specific work performed by HRED to solve specific problems with specific systems. Such work is a vital part of HRED’s mission, and the challenge lies in producing synergies between basic research and specific problem-solving work. By its nature, not all basic research will produce results that can be transitioned to Army-specific problems in the field. However, basic research can produce new classes of solutions. The answer to a customer’s human factors question may not be publishable in the scientific literature. However, a workforce, encouraged to think as basic scientists, may find that a specific task raises new topics for basic research. HRED’s leadership is tasked with steering a course than enables HRED to strike a balance between its basic research and specific, problem-solving missions.
The appointment of a new HRED Director in January 2011 has provided stability to HRED management. A senior scientist in neuroscience has also been appointed, which represents an important milestone in the development of the translational neuroscience thrust in HRED.
In terms of facilities, the most significant change has been the opening of the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research (SPEAR) facility. This facility, with its instrumented obstacle, cross-country courses, and biomechanics laboratory, gives HRED important new capabilities for measuring soldier performance under realistic conditions. With regard to staffing, the recruitment of early-career, clever scientists at a time of little or no growth is commendable.