Former Fort Hood leader takes command of UTA Research Institute
FORT WORTH, Jul 30, 2012 (Fort Worth Star-Telegram - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
As an Army division commander in Iraq in 2007, retired Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch led the first troops in the "surge," taking, he would later say, "the fight to the enemy."
Now Lynch -- who went on to become, first, the commander of the 3rd Corps at Fort Hood and then the manager of all 163 Army installations worldwide, overseeing 120,000 employees and a $13 billion budget -- has a new mission: help the University of Texas at Arlington achieve Tier One research status.
On April 2, after retiring from a 35-year military career and being recruited by high-profile UT Arlington backers, Lynch took the helm of the university's robotics institute in Fort Worth.
The graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y., who holds a master's degree in robotics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, agreed to take the job on three conditions: that he could undertake a six-week analysis of the institute, run it like a business and have the authority to hire and fire employees.
As a result of his early work, the institute has a new name and ambitious 10-year goals of generating $100 million annually in research funding, up from about $1 million a year, and of increasing its work force from 40 to 400. The UT Arlington Research Institute aims to become "a global leader in the research and development of advanced technology to help humanity and to provide unique, affordable solutions to complex problems," according to its mission statement.
Just as important as research funding, which Lynch envisions coming from about a 50-50 split between government and private sources, is the ability to quickly take promising ideas to the market. The best invention in the world means little if the inventor can't sell it to manufacturers. To facilitate interaction between industry and research, the institute plans to form a consortium and will grant fee-based access to its high-tech labs to private companies.
"We're focusing on ideas that are commercially viable within two years," said Lynch, who visited well-established institutes in San Antonio, Georgia and Ohio to see how they operate. "I envision having an office for Lockheed, an office for Bell, an office for Sikorsky or whoever. This will allow the industry to influence the research."
The institute will focus on "sweet spots" most in demand by potential private- and public-sector partners: advanced manufacturing like microfabrication; applied robotics; medical technologies; and energy, water and the environment. As one of UT Arlington's "centers of excellence," the institute is seen as a crucial component in the quest for Tier One status, said Ron Elsenbaumer, provost and vice president of academic affairs.
"We want to build on the strengths that we as a university have and eventually broaden them beyond what we are currently doing," he said. "We want to connect ... research and commercialization opportunities, especially with the companies that exist in our region. These will be real things that will make a difference in people's lives."
Collaboration, he has said in the past, causes one plus one to equal more than two.
At the institute, in the Riverbend industrial park near East Loop 820 and Airport Freeway, postdoctoral scientists like Eileen Clements work to develop a "Biomask" that will help heal facial injuries, Muthu Wijesundara studies the inkjet printing of electronics at the micron level, and Dan Popa researches how adaptive mapping can be applied to next-generation robots that assist disabled people.
Initiatives like these are dear to Lynch. At home in Harker Heights, he keeps 153 cards, each representing a soldier who died under his command in the bloody fight to regain control of Iraq.
"I think about them and pray for their families every day," he said, his face momentarily betraying his sorrow.
He served as a senior planner for the war effort in 2005, then spent a year as the primary spokesman for the U.S. command in Iraq. As base commander at Fort Hood, he took groundbreaking steps to help combat-weary soldiers and their families cope with their stress. Now he and his wife, Sarah, serve on the advisory boards of nonprofit organizations such as the Gary Sinise Foundation and Operation Finally Home, the latter of which builds houses for service members who suffered incapacitating injuries.
One day, humanoid robots developed at the institute could serve as personal assistants to disabled veterans, helping them live more normal lives. Such a scenario would benefit not only the individual and his family but also the Metroplex, the state and the nation, Lynch said.
"Part of this is bringing manufacturing back to the United States instead of it going overseas," he said. "It's all about strategic partnerships. I look at it as connecting the dots."
Patrick M. Walker, 817-983-8080
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