UT Spin-off to Demo Robotic Arm for Army Futures Command

Army Applications Laboratory
3 min readApr 28, 2021

AFC Commander GEN Murray to discuss success of model on April 30

Austin startup Apptronik has created a robotic arm resulting from an innovative project model to increase how fast artillery pieces fire and are resupplied. The company will demonstrate the potentially game-changing arm on April 30 at its Stonehollow Drive facility.

Austin-based Army Applications Laboratory (AAL), a subordinate organization of Army Futures Command (AFC), ran the Army’s first-ever cohort program for solution development, from which Apptronik was selected to continue development of its prototype. The cohort brought six tech companies together to solve one of the service’s highest-priority problems: how to resupply self-propelled cannons faster. AAL’s approaches to incentivize industry to work with the Army have resulted in record-breaking numbers of applications from businesses like Apptronik, and a number of Army firsts. AAL’s Field Artillery Autonomous Resupply cohort model is one of the ways that the Army Futures Command engages tech companies to find solutions for the Army’s modernization efforts.

General John M. “Mike” Murray, AFC Commanding General, will give opening remarks shortly before the demonstration begins. During the event, Apptronik will showcase the prototype’s ability to grasp and lift multiple inert artillery rounds and the backup manual controls Soldiers can use if the autonomous controls do not work.

According to the Apptronik team, their robotic arm weighs approximately 200lbs and can lift well over its own weight in munitions to autonomously resupply the Army’s artillery ammunition supply vehicle.

“We are very excited to see the continued evolution of Apptronik’s robotics capabilities that have grown out of the actuator technology originally developed for the likes of NASA and others. Now, that technology has enabled another breakthrough in robotics with our large-scale logistics arm for Robotic Arm Ammunition Resupply (RAAR),” said Apptronik co-founder and CEO Dr. Nicholas Paine, who started the firm in 2016 after working at the University of Texas at Austin’s Human Centered Robotics Lab.

Apptronik developed this prototype in only nine months of a two-year contract. Paine said the arm being demonstrated is a breakthrough that will continue to enable new applications not previously possible, and is the foundation for Apptronik’s work on the next generation of mobile, artificial-intelligence-based robots. He said Apptronik’s mission is to develop robots for the “Age of AI’’ that will do the work humans don’t want to do.

Army Applications Laboratory’s mission is to fundamentally reshape how the U.S. Army delivers capabilities to accelerate the discovery, evaluation, and transition of dual-use technology and successful business practices. AAL conducts substantial outreach to businesses who do not traditionally work with the government while improving incentives and the ease of working with the Army. The cohort Apptronik participated in was a collaborative effort among AFC/AAL, Long Range Precision Fires Cross Functional Team (LRPF-CFT), and the Pentagon’s Program Manager Self-Propelled Howitzer Systems. Army Applications Laboratory’s continues to refine its business model to attract new companies to the government acquisition process who can develop potentially game-changing technologies like Apptronik’s robotic arm.

Army Futures Command leads a continuous transformation of Army modernization in order to provide future warfighters with the concepts, capabilities, and organizational structures they need to dominate a future battlefield.

Located at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, LRPF-CFT aligns government science and technology investments, and looks for alternative approaches from non-traditional partners and academia to drive solutions for the next generation of field artillery systems across all echelons: strategic, operational, and tactical.

“The solution development model we used to get to this point is creating so much value for businesses and for the Army,” said Chris Sankovich, a project manager at Army Applications Laboratory. “What Apptronik developed wasn’t at all what the Army was looking for when we launched the Artillery Resupply Cohort. It shows what’s possible when we give the nation’s best and brightest the space to innovate and use their expertise to tell us the best way to solve a problem.”



Army Applications Laboratory

We’re not a laboratory in the traditional sense of the word. The Army Applications Laboratory (AAL) is the U.S. Army’s innovation unit. Learn more at aal.army.