NATICK, Mass. – Innovation in science and engineering won the day at the Warfighter Innovation in Science and Engineering, or WISE, Challenge, a live virtual event, held on April 27. The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, or DEVCOM, Soldier Center hosted the team-based, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) competition, which was approved by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Research and Technology.
Elizabeth McCoy of the DEVCOM Soldier Center oversaw the inaugural WISE Challenge event, which she views as a conduit to encourage increased networking between participating service academies and DOD stakeholders. Each academy that participated sent three individual teams to compete in the event, bringing together a total of 12 teams made up of cadets/midshipmen from the United States Military Academy (USMA), the United States Air Force Academy (USAFA), the United States Naval Academy (USNA), and the United States Coast Guard Academy (USCGA).
During the event, the teams presented their innovative science and engineering solutions to service-specific challenges. Projects included developing a railgun prototype to improve weapon performance; performing geospatial analysis of simulated oil spills to aid with response strategies; creating multifunctional textile fibers, or “Superstrands,” for energy storage to lighten the Soldier’s load; 3D-printing of a shield capable of stopping micrometeoroid debris; and designing a modular reactor protection system.
Other projects focused on predicting COVID-19 outbreaks through sewage analysis; developing the next generation of underbody armor plates for heavy fighting vehicles; designing a low-power radio frequency payload to counter electronic warfare drone attacks; developing a combat-ready, forward deployable nuclear reactor power source; designing a floating aid status tool to identify the status and location of floating aids to navigation in real-time; developing human drone teams to improve combat effectiveness of squads; and designing a robotic system to infiltrate buildings and emplace sensors.
"I am so glad that we were able to host this event – not just for the cadets, but for the defense science and technology community as a whole,” said Michael Codega, chief technology officer at the DEVCOM Soldier Center. “Within the first two days after the competition, I have already received numerous inquiries from lab personnel wanting to get in touch with the cadets and midshipmen because they think there is value in the ideas and the work they have begun.”
A panel of experts judged the team projects for innovation, technical approach/analysis, operational impact to the warfighter, and how effectively the idea was communicated to the audience.
“It was an honor to be selected as a judge amongst such a distinguished group of DOD scholars and leaders,” said Capt. Daniel P. Keane, commanding officer, U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Research and Development Center. “I was inspired by the creativity and innovation displayed on each of the projects. Not only did the cadets and midshipmen have to be innovative in their project approaches, they also had to be innovative in conducting their research given a restrictive COVID environment. Collaborative efforts between the DOD and Coast Guard research communities are critical to our services and the nation whether we’re improving the safety of our service members or maintaining the advantage in near peer competition.”
Prizes were awarded to the top teams, recognizing first place, second place, and honorable mention.
The USMA project, “Superstrand,” received first place and was the overall winner of the inaugural WISE Challenge.
The USMA project, “Team Defenders,” the USCGA project, “Sewage Testing to Predict COVID-19 Outbreaks for the Coast Guard at Land and Sea,” and the USNA project, “Combat Ready Reactor,” all tied for second place.
The USAFA project, “Defending Against Orbital Hypervelocity Impacts,” received honorable mention.
Brig. Gen. James Bienlien, deputy commanding general of the DEVCOM Soldier Center and the senior commander of the Natick Soldier Systems Center, told the participants that “what you’re doing today matters.”
“This is a very important competition because you’re starting your careers in support of warfighters,” said Bienlien. “Science, technology, and innovation are the cornerstones for meeting warfighter needs. At the end of the day, it is about collaboration. In the future, you will find yourselves working together to solve joint problems.”
“The WISE Challenge event is important because it fosters innovation, inspires creativity, and enables collaboration,” said Douglas Tamilio, director of the DEVCOM Soldier Center. “The event encourages advances in science and technology by bringing together seasoned professionals with emerging young talent. It brings together some of the best minds in the services, increasing awareness of the needs of the warfighter and bringing about possible solutions to capability challenges.”
ABOUT THE DEVCOM SOLDIER CENTER: The DEVCOM Soldier Center is committed to discovering, developing, and advancing science and technology solutions that ensure America’s warfighters are optimized, protected, and lethal. DEVCOM Soldier Center supports all of the Army's Modernization efforts, with the Soldier Lethality and Synthetic Training Environment Cross Functional Teams being the DEVCOM Soldier Center’s chief areas of focus. The center’s science and engineering expertise are combined with collaborations with industry, DOD, and academia to advance Soldier and squad performance. The center supports the Army as it transforms from being adaptive to driving innovation to support a Multi-Domain Operations Capable Force of 2028 and a MDO Ready Force of 2035. DEVCOM Soldier Center is constantly working to strengthen Soldiers’ performance to increase readiness and support for warfighters who are organized, trained, and equipped for prompt and sustainable ground combat.
STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) outreach and mentoring the next generation of scientists and engineers is also an important part of the mission of DEVCOM Soldier Center. The mentoring of students by Army scientists and engineers benefits the students and their communities. It also increases young people's awareness of potential Army job opportunities and helps provide the Army with potential new talent, helping to fuel innovative ideas that benefit the nation's warfighters and the nation as a whole.
DEVCOM Soldier Center is part of DEVCOM. Through collaboration across the command's core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more lethal to win our nation's wars and come home safely. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Futures Command.