WSU-Spokane was recently awarded $2.25 million for research development in high-tech social interaction training for soldiers in foreign countries from The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).
Research conducted at WSU-Spokane is part of a $32.5 million effort by DARPA’s Good Stranger program, according to a WSU news release. It is a three-year program involving WSU-Spokane, the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission and a manufacturer of realistic training simulators in the Seattle area called Advanced Interactive Systems.
Principal investiagor on the project Bryan Vila, a WSU-Spokane professor of criminal justice and criminology, said the research will help enlisted young military members and police officers. He said researchers intend to develop and test a new approach to successfully working with people from different cultural backgrounds, languages and customs.
“The emphasis of our project will be on the skills necessary to do that in ambiguous, rapidly evolving and high-risk encounters that police and military personnel often have to deal with,” Vila said. “These encounters take a great deal of insight and maturity to manage successfully, but many of the junior military and police personnel tasked with handling them are in their teens and early twenties and have limited education.”
Consequences for failing in a high-risk encounter can be catastrophic, Vila said. This project fosters handling skills for counterinsurgency, peacekeeping, nation-building and humanitarian missions in foreign countries. The skills also apply to community policing in the United States, he said.
Vila said the members of the project competed with corporations and researchers across the nation to win the DARPA grant. He said they stood out because of their proposal, uniquely qualified team and research laboratory five years in the making.
“We have the lab because WSU gave us space and because we competed for many more grants to equip it, build test devices and attract great faculty and grad students to work here,” Vila said. “Every one of the grants and contracts we've won over the past five years required months of work to develop — on top of everyday teaching and service duties, and then we spend years doing the research.”
Vila said the research team will develop a training curriculum and a method to asses the participants' performances, implement the curriculum and test the methods with a team in the field. He said he has also previously developed simulations at the WSU Sleep and Performance Research Center, which will help create this project’s simulations.
Lois James, the co-principal investigator on the project and postdoctoral research associate, declined to comment due to DARPA press regulations.
DARPA is an innovative research department working with the U.S. Department of Defense. They perform research in multiple areas including biological sciences, engineering and social sciences, according to the DARPA website.