Natick-West Point partnership grows during senior projects day
NATICK, Mass. (May 19, 2016) — Collaboration between the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point yielded many innovative solutions to Soldier-performance challenges during the second annual “Senior Projects Day” held in Natick on May 4.
The event marks the second year of collaborative research between the two organizations since formalizing a partnership in 2014 under a five-year memorandum of understanding, or MOU, established to cooperatively research topic areas that are of mutual interest and importance in the area of Human Augmentation.
The collaborative research conducted supports both NSRDEC’s Soldier-focused research and the USMA cadets’ senior capstone project, which culminates in a presentation to a joint USMA-NSRDEC audience in Natick at the end of the academic year.
“The capstone project development is a win-win for both organizations,” said Henry Girolamo, lead, Emerging Concepts & Technologies, for NSRDEC’s Warfighter Division, who developed and manages the collaboration. “The research being conducted at USMA is viewed as complementary to NSRDEC’s research, and it has the potential to provide beneficial and innovative improvements to Soldier products.”
As the architect of the collaborative effort, Girolamo’s original vision provided a vehicle to merge USMA academic competencies with NSRDEC’s need for more Soldier-focused research, thus planting the seeds for mutual success.
“The USMA cadet teams are providing research details to NSRDEC subject matter experts, who in turn, provide constructive guidance to the cadet teams on optimal research approaches that will maximize beneficial technology solutions for Soldiers,” said Girolamo.
“Prior to formalizing the collaboration in 2014, I had been working independently with USMA on various shelter projects, such as quickly erectable fighting positions and modular shelters,” said Melvin Jee, team leader, Tactical Shelters Team, Expeditionary Basing and Collective Protection Directorate, NSRDEC.
Propelled by the program’s successful launch in 2014, Girolamo expanded the program by adding additional research areas across multiple directorates that further align the cadets’ academic competencies with more NSRDEC research initiatives, growing the total to eight capstone projects for the 2015–2016 academic year.
“The ability to make this an enterprise level program led to a greater awareness of what USMA had to offer the rest of NSRDEC and the warfighter,” said Jee.
Research collaboration now extends across numerous topic areas, including: human augmentation, shelter technologies focused on design and development of a quickly erectable structural insulated panel (SIP) shelter, Soldier-microclimate conditioning, biomechanics-focused load carriage solutions, anthropometric female helmet analysis, meteorological sensing in support of aerial delivery systems, rotor guards and landing chassis to improve durability in Soldier-borne micro unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.
“The USMA-NSRDEC collaboration provides unparalleled opportunities for cadets to develop as engineers and leaders,” said Lt. Col. Phillip Root, director of the Center for Innovation and Engineering, Department of Civil & Mechanical Engineering at USMA. “The relevant problems addressing Soldier-needs foster their cadet engineering education, and the engagement with the NSRDEC professionals matures their critical thinking and innovation.”
Cadet John Billet, a mechanical engineering major from Nashville, Tennessee, centered his team’s capstone project on improving human augmentation efforts by developing the “Hip Actuator,” an exoskeleton technology designed to help dismounted Soldiers run faster.
“What’s different about the Hip Actuator, compared to existing systems, is that it’s so simple to use,” explained Bellet. “Typically, with an exoskeleton, if you get something [in terms of power or capability], you lose something else, but our system has one purpose — to run faster.”
“It’s easy to put on and take off, easy to use and maintain in the field, because it only has one motor and not many moving parts,” said Bellet.
“We are trying to prove that this works and could potentially be used as a piece of battlefield equipment in the future because of its simplicity,” said Bellet, who will serve as an infantry officer after graduation. “I think we still have a way to go, but it could one day be out there.”
Cadets John Culver from Louisville, Oklahoma, Mike Kerwin from Groton, Massachusetts, and Christopher Bascomb from Oradell, New Jersey, teamed up to address and reduce the problem of heat casualties, which sidelines approximately 2,000 Soldiers a day, according to their research.
With technical guidance from mechanical engineers Brad Laprise and Mike Zielinski from NSRDEC’s Warfighter Division, the Soldier-cooling capstone team explored the use of evaporative cooling to help cool Soldiers who are operating in extremely hot and humid environments.
“Mr. Laprise has been working on this technology for almost 20 years, so he gave us a lot of background on all the different types of systems out there before we started,” said Kerwin.
“Many of the systems out there are liquid based and designed for aviators, so we wanted to look at more of the air-based system for infantrymen,” said Bascomb.
“Our system incorporates a shirt that provides separation between a Soldier’s skin and the uniform they’re wearing by using a blower to circulate air across the body, allowing the air to evaporate the sweat, which works hand-in-hand with the body’s natural way of cooling itself,” said Culver.
“Our testing proved that without the cooling device, the Soldiers’ undershirts were soaked in sweat; but with the device, there was almost no sweat,” said Culver. “There are a lot of improvements to be made, but we think this is definitely the path to continue down with this technology.”
Whether or not their technologies make it to the field, the cadets have gained invaluable experience as students and future Army officers by collaborating with the organization focused on the individual Soldier.
“These cadets are far better prepared for the challenges facing them after graduation due to the efforts of the NSRDEC team,” said Root.
The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to empower the Army and joint warfighter with technology and engineering solutions that ensure decisive capabilities for unified land operations. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.