COLLEGE STATION, Texas — A week of Aggie and Phantom Warrior ingenuity culminated on June 16, 2023 at the final presentations for the 2023 Phantom Invents Workshop hosted by the Texas A&M College of Engineering.
Nine teams, consisting of a mix of III Armored Corps Soldiers and Texas A&M Engineering students, presented ten-minute pitches to a panel of four judges on their innovative solutions to real-world Army problem sets. At the beginning of the week, these teams were given the problem sets for the first time, and the solutions they developed were a testament to their teamwork, creativity and intellect.
The problem sets tackled throughout the week addressed a wide variety of areas for improvement in daily Army operations. The team named “Maintenance 101” developed a tablet application that will streamline the preventive maintenance checks and services procedures. The application allows for communication between echelons and works in conjunction with the current albeit less user-friendly maintenance system. It offers digital access to technical manuals, and even shows videos outlining how operators should conduct preventive maintenance on their assigned vehicles.
“Gen Team 8” presented a solution to the loud noises created by generators in a field environment with their advanced generator system. These thermal insulated foam panels and muffler design eliminate 50 percent of sound caused by generators.
“The Bomb Squad” developed a two-part system that uses X-rays to create a three-dimensional scan of improvised explosive devices, giving explosive ordnance disposal teams a more complete picture of the device and allowing for a safer disarmament. Their system nicknamed “Tom and Jerry,” can operate over rough terrain and is portable with the current devices used to detect bomb composition.
“I feel like we’ve had to dive deep into this to find a solution, but it’s been really interesting and educational,” said Sgt. Fallon Lewis, a member of the Bomb Squad team and a 74D Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Specialist in 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division. “It’s been interesting because I’m a Soldier, and they’re students, and we’re clashing and mixing ideas. Civilians have a bomb squad, and we have EOD, so they use different things and tactics and so does the bomb squads for civilians, so it’s been interesting to see what they each use.”
Sankarshana Mukundhan, another member of “The Bomb Squad,” is a sophomore at Texas A&M and an aspiring aerospace engineering major. Phantom Invents was his first exposure to working with members of the military.
“This is my first exposure with the military, and it’s good to have them here because they give different points of view. Having different points of view and approaching the problem in different ways makes it more innovative and gives us more ideas to think about stuff we haven’t before,” said Mukundhan.
Rodney Boehm is an associate professor of practice at Texas A&M University, responsible for engineering and entrepreneurship. Professor Boehm was the director of Phantom Invents for Texas A&M, and coincidentally, this workshop marked his last contribution to the college before retirement. Professor Boehm expressed the importance of the workshop for developing the minds of the Soldiers and students alike and is proud of the experience that Texas A&M can give the teams.
“I love the experience, the mix of the students and Soldiers, and the work ethic is here,” said Professor Boehm, “I am more interested in what people walk away with here and the skills we’ve given them and the mindset we’ve given them, than I am the projects. The projects are a vehicle to get them there. These are real-life problems that need to be solved, and we’ve put together multidisciplinary teams to solve them.”
The Phantom Invents Workshop marked the first instance of an educational partnership between III Armored Corps and Texas A&M. The overall positive experience of this workshop fosters a hope for this event to continue annually.
“An annual event would allow us to source problem statements over an eleven-to-twelve-month period and would allow us to give quality problem statements to our competitors. We’d like to bring in Soldiers from different units across III Armored Corps each year,” said Capt. Justin Backscheider, the deputy director of innovation and technology at III Armored Corps. “The credit goes to the students and the Soldiers. They all volunteered, and they exceeded our expectations.”
The Phantom Invents Workshop at Texas A&M allowed Soldiers and students to work together to foster innovation that would be directly beneficial to the Army. This successful week of ingenuity and engineering proved the benefit of a continued partnership with Texas A&M University.