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Sen. John Hoeven visits UND, Grand Forks International Airport

At UND, Hoeven discussed another phase of the DOD's augmented reality program; at the airport, he heard about progress on a new crosswind runway project.

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From left; Will Goodman, Vice President of Governmental Relations for Applied Research Associates, Grand Forks mayor Brandon Bochenski, Sen. John Hoeven and Mark Askleson, Executive Director of the Research Institute for Autonomous Systems at UND, discuss the Dept. of Defense contract to UND, Applied Research Associates for the third phase of Humvee display technology at an event Friday at the Tech Accelerator at UND. Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald
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Sen. John Hoeven made stops Friday, Nov. 19, at UND and Grand Forks International Airport, announcing the continuation of a Department of Defense program at the former and hearing a project update at the latter.

At UND, Hoeven, R-N.D., announced – along with university administrators and associated researchers – another phase of the DOD's augmented reality program, which aims to bring an advanced heads-up-display to Humvees, the Army’s multipurpose ground vehicles.

It has the potential to be integrated into other vehicles, and Hoeven said researchers are working to adapt it for use by individual soldiers. The work is being done jointly in a cross-disciplinary approach with UND and Applied Research Associates, an Albuquerque, New Mexico-based research and engineering company.

“We have the best men and women in uniform, hands down, in the world. … No one can touch their professionalism and capability,” said Hoeven. “What we must always do is have the technological advantage that is important for men and women to be successful in battle, and to make sure that America is successful against any and all adversaries.”

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Hoeven elaborated on the project at UND’s Tech Accelerator, in a garage containing a Humvee researchers are working on.

Heads-up-displays are used in some consumer and commercial vehicles, but the project at UND is taking it to another level. An ordinary system will project an image onto the windshield of a vehicle, meaning people need to look up and down at it. The augmented reality project will take that image and project it to the depth and distance that people see when they drive.

A Humvee driver will, for instance, be able to see around a building to gauge any threat that may be present behind it. Information will be transmitted to the system from a variety of sources – a drone flying overhead, a satellite or another ground based location. Vehicle operators or passengers will be able to “see” chemical or biological threats, the locations of other vehicles and get information about alternative routes through holographic images.

“We can bring technology basically to the cockpit, to the vehicle, that can keep them more safe and make them more efficient at what they're trying to do,” said Mark Askelson, executive director of UND's Research Institute for Autonomous Systems.

Will Goodman, vice president of government relations for Applied Research Associates, thanked Hoeven for his support for the project, and said he is glad to partner with UND. He said the project will bring “tremendous and life-saving value to our troops.”

“What you're looking at is the next generation of tactical intelligence on the battlefield,” said Will Goodman, vice president of government relations for Applied Research Associates.

The first phase of the project wrapped up on Nov. 15, and the second is ongoing. Earlier this month UND secured the third phase of the project, with each phase bringing in $5 million in research funding. Hoeven said more funding may be available.

Departments across UND are participating in the research, including aerospace, computer science, electrical and mechanical engineering and psychology. The latter department is involved with the technology-to-human interface, and must answer questions about how much information can be provided without becoming a distraction.

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UND President Andrew Armacost said the research goes beyond technology and involves policy, legal and ethical issues the university can address.

“A great university like UND has so many pockets of expertise that can contribute to that broad discussion, about the adoption of technology and the impact on society,” Armacost said.

Earlier that morning at Grand Forks Airport, Hoeven heard an update about the crosswind runway project there. Executive Director Ryan Riesinger said the project is proceeding apace, and work on rerouting County Road 5 is set to be completed in 2022.

Construction on the crosswind runway could begin in 2023, and will take about 11 days, Riesinger said. Plans at the airport include working on the main north/south runway, and building a new U.S. Customs building. The project is expected to cost $115 million, and 60% of that cost could be paid for with federal funds.

Hoeven said he isn’t sure of the timeline, but is working on appropriating more than $50 million for a new control tower. Hoeven said a new tower is critical for GFK, as it is the home of UND Aerospace.

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Mark Askleson, Executive Director of the Research Institute for Autonomous Systems, says "we can bring technology to the cockpit, to the vehicle, that can make them more safe, more efficient at what they're trying to do." At right is Sen. John Hoeven and Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski. Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

Adam Kurtz is the community editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He covers higher education and other topics in Grand Forks County and the city.

Kurtz joined the Herald in July 2019. He covered business and county government topics before covering higher education and some military topics.

Tips and story ideas are welcome. Get in touch with him at akurtz@gfherald.com, or DM at @ByAdamKurtz.

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