APG set to share base's technology with businesses

Annual showcase aimed at product development

May 30, 2004|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Two years ago, when the Maryland Transit Administration was having problems with wheels falling off its buses, it turned to the Army for help.

"We determined what the problem was and told them how they could solve it," said Stephen C. Clark, director of business development at Aberdeen Proving Ground, a leading center for the research, development and testing of materials.

Keeping the wheels on MTA buses is just a small sample of the military base's brainpower and technical expertise that will be displayed Thursday when APG opens its gates to members of the business and academic communities.

In cooperation with the Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO), a quasi-public organization that promotes economic development, APG will hold its annual showcase of technology.

The purpose is to give companies, both small and large, an opportunity to tap into the research at the base with hopes that they will be able to take the next step toward the development of a new product, Clark said.

"We do a lot more than shoot guns and test tanks," he added.

"For example, we are involved in medical research that could prevent Lyme disease," Clark said. This involves the development of a chemical compound that would repel deer ticks. The goal is to come up with a new insect repellent that does not have the potential hazards of DEET, which is used in most repellents.

"A company might want to partner with the Army under a cooperative agreement or under a licensing agreement and use this technology to bring a new product to the market," Clark said.

Clark said his hope is to lure new companies to Harford County that can make use of the Army's research. "We want to create more high-technology companies along Route 40," he said.

Federal boost

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, came to Aberdeen last week with a government check to be used in this effort.

She brought $1 million in federal funds to launch the Aberdeen Technology Transfer Initiative, an economic development program designed to increase cooperation between Aberdeen Proving Ground's research laboratories, and private-sector companies and entrepreneurs.

Mikulski called APG the anchor tenant of Harford County's economy.

"The Aberdeen Technology Transfer Initiative will build partnerships with the private sector, leading to innovation and new products that will make our economy stronger, make America smarter, make our troops and our communities safer," she said.

The new program will sponsor additional showcases where business can preview new technologies and research at APG.

The Technology Transfer Initiative will be managed by APG's Office of Business Development and TEDCO. It also will award grants to entrepreneurs and serve as an incubator to help new companies get started.

"It will be a significant expansion of our operations," Clark said. "Instead of holding one showcase a year, we might have two. We will be able to hire more people for the business development office to seek more companies to partner with APG."

Roadway simulator

Those attending this week's showcase will also get the opportunity to see the Army's roadway simulator.

The $40 million machine looks like an industrial-strength version of the dynamometer at state vehicle emission testing centers.

"It is the largest and most sophisticated diagnostic machine of its kind in the world," said Greg Schultz, a mechanical engineer who helped create the machine and oversees its operation.

He said one of the machine's uses is to test the cornering and braking performance of wheeled vehicles. "We can take a vehicle up to its rollover threshold, to the point that two wheels will be lifted off the ground," he said. "In other words, will a 19-year-old soldier roll a vehicle over in an evasive maneuver?"

Vehicles can be tested at speeds up to 120 mph with a robot in the driver's seat to eliminate danger to a human operator.

In a recent test, a 5-ton military truck, equipped with additional armor to protect it from roadside bombs in Iraq, was placed on the machine to simulate driving up a steep hill for an hour. The test was to see whether the truck's cooling system could handle the additional weight and whether the engine would overheat.

Late last year, the machine was used to test the performance of Humvees that were being equipped with armor for use in Iraq.

"We were working around the clock on that project," said Schultz. "We needed to see how the vehicle performed with the added armor to protect soldiers from snipers and roadside bombs.

"This is a national asset that anybody can use. We want companies to make use of it. It will help offset our operational and maintenance costs."

It's a bit expensive. Schultz said a company might pay $3,000 a day to use the simulator.

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