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TARDEC's Dr. Paul D. Rogers believes employing fuel cells to generate the electricity on Army vehicles  can be preferable to using batteries. (image: Kami Buchholz)

A secure technology future underscores U.S. Army's R&D work

As the Director of the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) in Warren, Michigan, Dr. Paul D. Rogers oversees more than 1700 engineers, scientists, researchers and support staff. He is tasked with setting a strategic direction for the multitude of investments related to 270-plus Army systems. Truck & Off-Highway Engineering contributor Kami Buchholz interviewed Dr. Rogers on the eve of press days at the 2018 North American International Auto Show in Detroit where TARDEC exhibited several in-development technologies.

How are cybersecurity tactics permeating TARDEC’s projects?

Our cybersecurity efforts are all-encompassing in nature as we approach cyber threats directly and indirectly. We evaluate every vehicle design for vulnerabilities and use that evaluation data to drive the design process. Our holistic approach includes cyber-resiliency tactics—like penetration testing and red-teaming, which is an in-house method of challenge. From the very beginning of the design process, our cybersecurity engineers take into consideration cyber-resiliency. We’ve found that it’s a lot more practical, efficient, and effective to design a cyber-resilient end product—whether that’s a platform or a component technology—that can be quickly upgraded or modified rather than doing this later in the development process. So ‘permeate’ is a very good way to describe our cybersecurity approach, from the beginning of the design process through the end result that wraps up modularity, adaptability and flexibility.

All transportation sectors want batteries that are lightweight, compact, and long-lasting. What’s new at TARDEC with battery technologies?

TARDEC really brings the benefits of our relationships with industry to the forefront with battery technologies. Our experts are able to work with commercial collaborative partners to steer the direction of new battery developments and bring maximum returns to the Army. The forward progress of battery technology that’s been driven by the automotive industry over the past decade or so has been fantastic, and we’re excited to be a part of it. Right now, we’re really testing the limits of power density in new battery technologies and configurations, working with combinations of power generation, electronic architecture, and low-voltage energy storage to get the best performance from all of these technologies working in concert.

Why does TARDEC view fuel cell power as a viable future power source for certain U.S. Army vehicles?

The potential advantages we’re seeing in fuel cells is twofold: there is the mobility that’s enabled by using electric motors, and there’s a potential solution to a very tricky power density need. For starters, electric motors are very, very quiet, which is a capability that is highly valued in our line of work. Add to that the torque from an electric motor, and it’s easy to see the potential. When it comes to powering those electric motors, there are really two options: batteries and fuel cells. Batteries, of course, have been the preferred direction so far in the automobile industry. But with the weight of Army vehicles (Abrams tanks can push upwards of 80 ton) and the heavy power draw for our applications (at times drawing kilowatts of power), the power density just isn’t there yet. That leaves hydrogen tanks fueling fuel cells to generate the electricity.

What are the latest developments at TARDEC on the autonomous vehicle front?

Driver-optional vehicle capabilities are so well-developed now that while our engineers continue to develop automated behaviors, fail-safe protocols, and expanded capabilities, we’re really now starting to focus on applications. Our engineers have been applying driver-optional technologies to effect Automated Ground Resupply, or what you might think of as ‘platooning’ or ‘line-haul’ leader-follower applications. Additionally, though, the Army is applying the technology on a smaller scale for the ‘last mile’ ground resupply—getting material from the last supply point in a logistics chain to War-fighters in the field.

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