Showcase draws exhibitors, visitors

The Baltimore Sun

Aberdeen Proving Ground exhibited advanced technology and its latest research. Contractors demonstrated their innovations and inventions, and established connections with the military. Harford County government agencies showed what the area can offer to those relocating during the post's expansion as part of the nationwide military base realignment, known as BRAC.

The annual showcase drew nearly 30 exhibitors and several hundred visitors to the Amoss Center in Bel Air. The two-day event last week included lectures, workshops and demonstrations of a range of communications and electronics equipment, weapons, armor, even the most recent efforts in meal preparation for soldiers in the field.

Kimberly Wilson, marketing specialist with the Army's Research, Development and Engineering Command or RDECOM, which sponsored the event, called it an advance planning briefing for industry.

"The diverse showcase shows what APG can offer regional industry," Wilson said. "We all can look to the future as we partner on new contracts, grants and research."

RDECOM, established in 2004, integrates research, development and engineering through partnerships with other Army agencies, universities, and the business and technology community. Andricka Thomas, command spokeswoman, said the showcase allows the Army to explain the potential for partnerships to contractors.

"There are many different opportunities on post and this event can show contractors where they fit in," Thomas said. "With its vast resources, the Army can often take a concept or a product to the next step."

Steve C. Taulbee, an engineer at the Army Research Laboratory, said the showcase "is a great place to exchange results with colleagues in the industry."

He had several newly developed products to share and was eager to provide data on how to make stronger helmets, more effective body armor and transparent face protectors as well as flexible materials to safeguard a soldier's arms and legs.

"This is the stuff that saves lives," Taulbee said.

Among the most eye-catching of the exhibits were the miniature, tele-operated, camera-equipped bots. Using a battery-powered remote control, Master Sgt. Ralph Brewer, a member of the Army's robotics lab team, drove a lynchbot and toughbot into the crowd. Many with questions and comments followed the bots back to Brewer.

He explained how a soldier can learn to use a light-weight bot within minutes and carry it in a backpack. Bots can be tossed into a building to do reconnaissance, even down to detecting a trip wire at a door, or driven ahead of a convoy to seek out potential bomb threats along the road. Its sensors can identify and avoid obstacles on its route and move around them. Adaptability and durability - it is encased in a hard plastic shell - make it an invaluable tool.

"This is something we can put between the soldier and danger," Brewer said. "It can do the job in dangerous situations and it is making a huge difference. We are developing applications to make it even better and easier for soldiers to use."

Several contractors offered equipment of benefit to the military, including DRS, an electronics manufacturer with a mobile communication system that can provide voice, video, and Internet access in remote areas.

"It is like taking your office to the middle of the desert and having the same capabilities," said Aaron Colbert, program manager for the company that, he said, will likely follow its military customers from New Jersey to Harford County. "These systems are deployed all over the world and are on standby now for the Midwest flooding."

Carl Hawkins, manager of business development for Symetrics Industries in Melbourne, Fla., relied on photos to show how the company's flare dispensers protect aircraft.

"These events give us the big picture and let us meet with decision-makers," he said. "We can see what others are doing in line with what we have to offer."

While many talked business, the county's Department of Economic Development dispensed information on housing, jobs, schools and tourism attractions.

"This beautiful venue is always successful and it's an opportunity for everyone to have input," said Kathleen M. Wajer, the agency's chief financial manager.

As BRAC begins to bring the first of 10,000 jobs to APG, Wajer said such events can help many make the decision to move to Harford with those jobs.

"We are providing the most accurate information to people who have important decisions to make with their lives," she said. "A lot of people want to live where they work and we are here to tell them about us and what resources we have available."

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