Advances in infrared technology have been essential towards improving our understanding of the solar neighborhood, revealing a large population of brown dwarfs, which span the mass regime between planets and stars. My thesis combines near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopic and astrometric analysis of nearby low-mass stars and brown dwarfs with instrumentation work to upgrade the NIRSPEC instrument for the Keck II Telescope. I will present results from a program using Spitzer/IRAC data to measure precise locations and distances to 22 of the coldest and closest brown dwarfs. These distances allow us to constrain absolute physical properties, such as mass, radius, and age, of free-floating planetary-mass objects through comparison to atmospheric and evolutionary models. NIR spectroscopy combined with the Spitzer photometry reveals a detailed look into the atmospheres of brown dwarfs and gaseous extrasolar planets. Additionally, I will discuss the improvements we are making to the NIRSPEC instrument at Keck. NIRSPEC is a NIR echelle spectrograph, capable of R~2000 and R~25,000 observations in the 1-5 μm range. As part of the upgrade, I performed detector characterization, optical design of a new slit-viewing camera, mechanical testing, and electronics design. NIRSPEC’s increased efficiency will allow us to obtain moderate- and high-resolution NIR spectra of objects up to a magnitude fainter than the current NIRSPEC design. Finally, I will demonstrate the utility of a NIR laser frequency comb as a high-resolution calibrator. This new technology will revolutionize precision radial velocity measurements in the coming decade.