AUSTIN, Texas -- To better understand new technologies and scientific efforts that could aid warfighters, the Army is connecting with industry and academia through its "Mad Scientist" initiative.
The service is asking itself where the military challenges and opportunities are moving forward, Lee Grubbs, Mad Scientist director, said in an interview with National Defense on the sidelines of the program's annual conference. "We translate that into real-person speak--civilian speak. We look at where analogies of that exist in the commercial world."
As the service has shifted focus from counterinsurgency to large-scale operations, the Army decided the time was right to bring back the Mad Scientist program a few years ago, Grubbs said. The 2018 national defense strategy puts a renewed focus on countering great power adversaries such as Russia and China.
The conference was held in April at the University of Texas-Austin, because its Cockrell School of Engineering is one of the top engineering schools in the country, he said. This year's themes were robotic technologies and the future of space and ethics.
When picking a school where the conference will take place, the Army considers which has the resident expertise, Grubbs said. "In this case, you have a great confluence of robotics capability, people who were experts in space and the topics we want to" discuss.
Previous events under the Mad Scientist initiative sometimes included classified sessions, he noted. However, the program is now almost entirely open source-based.
"It's almost completely collaborative across academia and industry," he said. "We brought it back and changed it based on where the Army was at the time."
Grubbs said the Mad Scientist initiative is not focused on creating programs of record. Rather, the intent is to "collaborate, bring in creative thinkers [and] explore ideas in different ways." After those ideas are coalesced, they are presented to individuals and organizations that can carry them forward, he said.
The initiative relies heavily on commercial industry so the Army can explore emerging technologies where it is not leading the way, he noted.
"The explosion in biology is not something that's happening in a DoD lab," he said. "It's originating in commercial labs looking for where there might be profit--artificial intelligence, autonomy, robotics."
The conference's themes and topics are tailored to the Army's warfighting concepts, Grubbs said. Two years ago, the event...