By Mr. Mark Tate (USASOC)May 8, 2015
FORT BRAGG, N.C. (USASOC News Service, May 8, 2015) - Technology today is blurring the lines between virtual reality and, well, reality and for Sgt. Anthony Brock that is okay in his book.
"The only difference between virtual reality and the world we live in is the amount of information," said Brock. "The only reason they are different is that there is so much more to experience in the physical domain than we can currently sense and process in the virtual realm. As new sensors are created and we become able to process information faster, the gap between the two will disappear."
Virtual reality and the physical world met for Brock and his ad-hoc team recently when they won a 3-D printing competition held by U.S. Army Special Operations Command, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and 3D Systems at Fayetteville Technical Community College.
"3-D printing takes a virtual model you've made and makes it physical, while 3-D scanning takes a physical object and makes a digital model" he said. "
Brock took his interest in virtual reality and his new hobby of 3-D printing to the competition. He found himself partnered with five other individuals. James Haig, Eric Fleischhauer, Nathan Lambert, and Patrick Fain were from UNC-Chapel Hill, while Henry Goodell was from UNC- Kenan-Flagler Business School. While others signed up as a team, Brock found himself with five strangers, but said this was actually a bonus.
"It was an open atmosphere," he said. "Everybody could share their ideas. We broke into separate groups and worked on different parts of the projects. We had people who were experienced in 3-D printing and some with little experience like me. We just worked together."
The focus of the competition was to design something for military application. Brock was fortunate to have two military veterans on his team. After several suggestions, the team focused on creating a capsule that could be dropped from a helicopter traveling at a speed of 90 knots and from a height of 150 feet during combat situations and deliver the contents unscathed.
The capsule his team designed will meet those needs and can only be created on a 3-D printer. The capsule is designed to absorb the shock of the impact it will take and focus the energy of the force around the capsule and away from the supplies inside it.
"Our goal was to effectively resupply a team in contact while reducing risk to the aircraft," Brock said. "Now aircraft either has to fly in close to deliver supplies to Soldiers engaged in combat or drop them from higher up, which damages the supplies. This will help save lives."
Their design caught the eye of the military. U.S. Special Operations Command has asked the team to finalize their design for future testing. One day it might make it to the battlefield.
"I would love to see something I helped design and build affect operations and potentially save lives," Brock said. "Maybe one day it will help me out one day. Who knows, maybe I will be resupplied by one of my own designs."
For now, the capsule is on display at the Army Research Office in Cary, N.C. 3D Systems will make each of the team members a copy.
For Brock, this could be an opportunity to pursue his dream of working in virtual reality.
"I don't have any specific applications I want to develop in virtual reality, but I would like to be one of the people that brings that technology closer to reality," he said. "I want to be on the cutting edge and work on the technology that pushes the boundary of what we can do. 3-D printing is one example of where we are. Technology like this is changing the paradigm of how we interact with a virtual space and pushing the virtual world a little closer to the physical."