Arizona State University’s Polytechnic campus and General Dynamics C4 Systems have joined forces to create a “living laboratory” to test new border control and homeland security technologies.

The partnership melds the school’s engineering and science faculty and students with the General Dynamics-sponsored EDGE Innovation Network — a conglomerate comprised of tech companies such as Cisco, IBM and Microsoft. The companies use the network to farm out ideas, technology, products and systems for testing and validation by university researchers and students.

Based in Mesa, Ariz., the Arizona State University (ASU) Polytechnic campus will feature a facility and dedicated four-acre, outdoor “living laboratory” to evaluate the latest advancements in homeland security and border patrol innovation.

Anshuman Razdan, associate professor and project director at ASU Polytechnic, explained that the idea behind the lab is to push technology to its maximum limits under varied conditions. The campus is already home to the Aerospace and Defense Research Collaboratory where technology in that area is being tested with a similar philosophy.

The term “living lab” was coined because in some test situations, a student could theoretically live in one of the indoor lab spaces, putting a piece of technology through a thorough, real-life test, according to Razdan. He said the goal for the concept is to create a clear picture of how a solution will respond to regular use by personnel in different environments.

For example, in consumer terms, when a person buys a refrigerator, he or she can look up its energy rating and see a baseline of what to expect. But exactly how that appliance functions when exposed to stressors may differ depending on a person’s location.

That’s the type of granular data that Razdan said ASU Polytechnic faculty and staff will attempt to uncover from the latest border and homeland security innovations.

The project already is under way at the university. Bill Ross, vice president at General Dynamics C4 Systems, said a framework is being put together to fully emulate a day in the life of a border patrol agent.

“We put it outside for a reason, [as the] Arizona desert is where the most challenging border security problems occur,” Ross said. “What we’re doing is setting up a suite of sensors, a network, an operational picture and the ability to do command and control.”

Ross added that once the environment is established, different technologies and collaboration tools can be assessed to determine their effectiveness. He pinpointed May as the likely time frame to conduct sensor sweeps and see how some new technology capabilities perform.

Mutually Beneficial

So what do both ASU and General Dynamics have to gain by partnering? From the university’s perspective, Razdan said the chief benefit was establishing a formal relationship to chain federal opportunities together.

He explained that as a research institution, ASU Polytechnic has intellectual capital and the ability to work on outside-the-box ideas, the institution isn’t as well suited to taking the next step by commercializing systems and technology. So the partnership is a marriage of complementary strengths.

“We can work on these technologies, but when you need to apply it in the field, universities typically don’t answer the phones when some things aren’t working,” Razdan said. “We’re not geared that way.”

For General Dynamics, Ross said the reasoning behind working with ASU was simple — access to a larger talent pool and fresh ideas. But the university also resides in a state that is a hotbed for border security, a focal point of some of the company’s customers, including the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“They’ve already stood up certain programs focused in this area that we can leverage so we’ve already got a head start,” Ross said of ASU. “They’ve got location and already have mindshare in this space, so they are a natural partner from that perspective.”

Brian Heaton  |  Senior Writer

Brian Heaton is a senior writer for Government Technology. He primarily covers technology legislation and IT policy issues. Brian started his journalism career in 1999, covering sports and fitness for two trade publications based in Long Island, N.Y. He's also a member of the Professional Bowlers Association, and competes in regional tournaments throughout Northern California and Nevada.