NATICK, Mass. (May 2, 2014) -- An all-female team of four students from Worcester Polytechnic Institute recently developed a design to make the Army-issued rucksack hip belt more comfortable for female Soldiers.
The engineering students worked with one of the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center's load carriage specialists over the course of the year to develop a prototype.
Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, physical scientist Rich Landry had previously held a workshop for the Army ROTC cadets at WPI on how to correctly assemble Army load carriage components, including the rucksack.
Marlisa Overton, an Army ROTC cadet and senior biomedical engineer student, relied on her experiences carrying the rucksack and found that the current hip belt could use some adjustments that would prove beneficial for female Soldiers. She noticed not everyone would use the hip belt, and after further investigation, the team found that it was because of discomfort and lack of effective weight distribution. The hip belt was challenging to adjust and sometimes required another Soldier to pull the strap, or pulling it using an awkward forward motion.
The main change was to the hip belt itself but there are now also wedged cushions for the curve of the lower back. The newer design allows the female Soldier to pull the strap to the side. This means the Soldier can adjust it to make the rucksack fit just right.
To get a clearer perspective of what most Soldiers need to carry on the battlefield, Overton, and classmates Rachel Matty, Amy Babeu, Erin LaRoche, all senior engineering majors, first had to learn about Army equipment used in the field.
They added up the weights and bulk of the ammunition, weapons, communications equipment, water, food, environmental protective clothing and other gear that Soldiers need in combat. The great amount of gear and its weight makes it extremely important to design an efficient and comfortable load carriage system for all Soldiers to use. The weight of all these items, including wearing personal protection equipment (body armor, helmet and eyewear can add up quickly, no matter what your gender, frame size, height, or weight.
The students' new modifications to the rucksack hip belt allow a female Soldier to carry this equipment more efficiently and move with more ease and safety, as the weight is distributed off the shoulders and back, and onto the female Soldier's hips where it is more balanced and stable.
Overton, a senior cadet in the WPI ROTC program, will receive her commission in May as a second lieutenant and may someday see the results of the project in the future.
"The reason that we focused on the hip belt was that women carry weight more effectively on their hips, while men carry weight more effectively on their shoulders. Therefore, for the scope of this project we are only conducting tests on females. However, this belt could be adjusted for a male Soldier's use. We have a foam wedge which can be removed or repositioned for the user's preference. There are also six snaps that allow for attachment to straps to pull the rucksack closer to the user's body, which allows for adjustability from user to user," Overton explained.
"We tested the female rucksack (hip belt) on 10 females through an obstacle course," Matty said. "One subject, who previously had complained of back problems, instantly noticed a difference. She felt that she could wear it longer."
Babeu was able to prove conclusive results based on the feedback from the female Soldiers who ran the obstacle course. The Soldiers reported that perceived exertion was lowered, demonstrating the prototype's efficiency where it matters most, out in the field.
NSRDEC's lead engineer for Load Bearing Equipment, John Kirk, felt that the idea was innovative. Kirk and his team believe in providing a stage for promising developers to create and develop their visions. LaRoche was grateful for NSRDEC's support and agreed that the effort was very rewarding, especially considering the productive environment which allowed them to try a variety of possibilities.
"I was very excited that they had picked the female load bearing belt to work on, since we don't currently have one," said Fernanda Crivello, team leader for NSRDEC's Clothing & Configuration Management Team. She also added that she "had high hopes that they would come up with something that it would benefit the female Soldiers."
"Their concept was solid," Landry said. "Ultimately, our goal is to figure out a hybridized design the entire population can use more effectively."
They were successfully able to create a design for a system they could assemble and demonstrate in a short amount of time. Landry and the students met and began to work on the rucksack last October. They have a finalized a prototype and are presenting it as a WPI group senior engineering project for their graduation in May.
ABOUT NATICK SOLDIER RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT AND ENGINEERING CENTER
NSRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.