effects of soldier equipment on soldier performance, and (3) Applying the new metrics to understanding the effects of physical and cognitive load on soldier performance over longer duration activities.
Accomplishments and Advancements
Biomechanics has long been at the core of HRED’s mission to examine the physical limits on soldier performance. HRED has developed a very strong set of facilities for studying soldier performance under various approximations of the real-world situation. Field studies are extremely valuable for their realism but are not well suited to well-controlled, basic research studies. For such studies, HRED has multiple research venues for examining the interaction of physical and cognitive stress on soldier performance. These facilities include first-person gaming facilities for isolating the effects of cognitive stress (such as the C4ISR laboratory) and a state-of-the-art biomechanics laboratory for investigating the physical effects of load. The Tactical Environment Simulation Facility (TESF) is a fully immersive simulator that allows research subjects to walk through and interact with their environment. The M-Range Shooter performance research facility is a live-fire range capable of providing real-time high-fidelity data on marksmanship performance. The newest facility, the Soldier Performance and Equipment Advanced Research (SPEAR) facility (opened in the summer of 2012) combines HRED’s biomechanics laboratory, outdoor obstacle course, and a WiFi-networked, 2.5-mile cross-country course that goes through the woods of Aberdeen Proving Ground. This array of facilities allows HRED a high level of experimental control if needed (i.e., in the C4ISR or biomechanics lab) and a high level of operational relevance if needed (i.e., in the SPEAR).
With these tools in hand, the task becomes deciding where to focus research effort. HRED has identified a niche that it is, perhaps, uniquely suited to study—the interaction of physical and cognitive stress on soldier performance. HRED notes that not only are soldiers required in modern missions to carry very large physical loads (in excess of 100 pounds), but also they need to do so in ambiguous, yet threatening environments (such as patrolling potentially hostile city streets), while making split second, life or death decisions. Few research facilities are capable of supporting the study of this combination of factors; this capability is a strength of the physical and cognitive performance interaction research thrust.
Because considerable effort has been devoted to the development of these new facilities, it is not surprising that a significant portion of recent work has involved validation of devices including the omni-directional treadmill, the force plate treadmill, and aspects of marksmanship measurement.
During the past year, the group has started to demonstrate how it can use its tools in work that moves beyond validation. For example, if the laboratory has multiple ways to test the effects of physical and cognitive load, then does it matter if you test in the real world or in a simulator? The answer from one recent study is that this does matter and needs to be taken into account. World-class, one-of-a-kind facilities notwithstanding, another recent project showed how to make clever use of off-the-shelf tools such as the Microsoft Kinect sensor and the Sony Move system.
The work on hand carriage of load is a good example of the sort of classic “bread and butter” biomechanics work at the center of HRED’s mission to understand the demands placed on soldiers.
Opportunities and Challenges
The physical and cognitive performance interaction research group has a vision for a research program that exploits its unique and impressive set of available facilities. The challenge chiefly lies in implementing that vision while responding to more traditional requests for support, which is recognized in the current research plan. The group plans to continue to employ traditional methods to quantify the