Civil and mechanical engineering cadets from the U.S. Military Academy took a field trip to Fort Benning March 28 to partner with Soldiers from 1st Battalion, 29th Infantry Regiment to incorporate real-life experience into their capstone design projects.
The capstone project challenges cadets to tackle current Army issues through innovative engineering projects that are then brought to Fort Benning to seek feedback from Soldiers on how well their projects would perform during regular Army operations.
“We run a year-long technical capstone program in mechanical engineering. It’s one of many programs at the military academy that help us develop leaders of character who can operate, lead and win in a complex world,” said Col. Bret Van Poppel, Mechanical Engineering Division director at the U.S. Military Academy.
While their time at Fort Benning is brief, the feedback the cadets receive is critical to the completion of the capstone projects, said Van Poppel.
“Coming down here and being able to put their projects and products and prototypes in the hands of trained technical users who understand technology and some of the projects and have seen a lot of similar projects and efforts will really be valuable for them to complete their capstones,” said Van Poppel.
The capstone projects presented solutions to current issues in the Army. The projects included a load-bearing system that redistributes 25 percent of a Soldier’s fighting load from their shoulders to their hips, a device that allows Soldiers to control how quickly they descend a helicopter while carrying a heavy load, a device to reduce the recoil of a M249 machine gun in order to increase accuracy, an air-based cooling system that integrates with Soldiers’ uniforms, a Wi-Fi based gesture controlled system that enables robotic manipulation and a drone that can fly in and out of tunnels in order to measure the length of the tunnel.
Cadet Ryan Meyer, a senior whose group worked on reducing the recoil on a M249, said that they were hoping to get some qualitative data from the Soldiers in order to fine-tune their project. “We are trying to get their impressions of the system, and see how they think it works compared to what they are used to shooting, and from there we can take that and tweak our design and move forward,” said Meyer.
Cadet Evan Harkins, a senior, said that working with the Soldiers also gave them valuable perspective.
“The Soldiers have identified some problems that we didn’t previously see, so we are going to take that feedback as well as the testing data we get today and hope to continue to develop our device,” said Harkins.
While the capstone project is a graduation requirement for civil and mechanical engineering students, the project also has the chance of being awarded a patent and eventually integrated into Army operations, said Van Poppel.
“We’ve had at least a few cadet projects over the past few years that have applied and been awarded patents,” said Van Poppel.
The end state of this project is to try to get this device out there to help Soldiers, said Harkins.
“It would be very gratifying to see this device used in the operational Army,” said Harkins.
In addition to boosting their academic careers and solving real-world problems, this experience gave cadets the opportunity to further their leadership skills, said Van Poppel.
“I think that it’s a great opportunity for them to grow as leaders, as future officers, leaders of character. They can fulfill at least a couple of roles or identities of officers as they make the final transition from cadet to commissioned officer,” said Van Poppel.
The Soldiers tested the prototypes in order to give critical feedback that will help the cadets fine-tune their projects before they meet with students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to compete in a Design Contest in April.
Photo credit: U.S. Military Academy civil and mechanical engineering cadets participate in a variety of projects that are fundamental to how West Point grows adaptive, innovative leaders for the Army. The Structurally Insulated Panel Hut, a potential modern replacement for the traditional plywood B Hut, is one of those ongoing projects.