WEST POINT, N.Y. (May 4, 2011) -- Sometimes simplicity lends itself to ingenious solutions. That was the case when Class of 2012 Cadet Gerrit Van Ommering designed a better defensive barrier.

Working with Class of 2012 Cadets Justin Weeks, Josh Peterson and John Paulson, the team used a current model HESCO sand-filled barrier and modified it to reduce the need for heavy equipment and extensive construction time.

The design was showcased April 28 at Projects Day, which featured more than 300 capstone projects, senior theses and research activities from West Point cadets and invited colleges and academies.

Additionally, the barrier design yielded the top prize at the 2011 MIT Soldier Design Competition, where three other West Point teams received awards for their projects. While testing the barrier at Picatinny Arsenal, N.J., a noncommissioned officer commented to Van Ommering that he would have his unit use this design on their next deployment. Lt. Col. Bruce Floersheim, USMA coordinator for the MIT SDC, is not surprised by this assessment. He said that following the briefing at the MIT competition, Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, the commanding general of Research, Development and Engineering Command, commented that the design could be put in the field immediately.

"Everybody who's seen this pretty much has asked why this hasn't been thought of before," Floersheim said. "Sometimes it just takes another set of eyes, a new look at something. Some of us have been around these things for so long we no longer look at them the same way."

What Floersheim found most remarkable is the fact these cadets took on this project as an independent study which would not earn them any credit toward their senior design project.

"We've been in this competition for eight years now, and (I believe) this is the first time that a non-senior design team has won the top prize," Floersheim said. "They were doing this on their own time because they were excited about the competition and excited about doing something to help Soldiers."

What the cadets did essentially, Floersheim said, was add internal compartments using components already available in the barrier system. This allows Soldiers to achieve initial small-arms protection quickly as they continue to improve their defenses.

Brig. Gen. Timothy Trainor, dean of the academic board, said the learning environment at West Point is dynamic and responsive to the changing needs of the Army and the nation.

"The possibility for positive impact to the Army is a big plus for these types of projects," Trainor said. "The efforts cadets put into these types of projects is certainly enhanced since they understand the impact their work could generate; their focus and dedication, multiplied. Additionally, these projects are relevant, and further pick their interest, as they understand they may be addressing problems now that they may encounter later as future officers."

One cadet interdisciplinary team was awarded with the 3rd annual Scott R. Clark Innovation for Soldiers Award, which is presented to a West Point cadet project that demonstrates an innovative approach to solving a problem of direct application to the Army. This year's recipients were Class of 2011 Cadets Mike Weigand, Anthony Rodriguez (computer science majors), John Rollinson (computer science and math double major) and James Raub (information technology major). Their project, STITCH, or Supplying Technical Imagery to Command Headquarters, employs a high-tech, low-cost and lightweight backpack transportable unmanned aerial vehicle system that collects and then stitches terrain photos together autonomously. This creates a current, high-resolution geo-rectified photo-mosaic map of a several-mile radius around the Soldiers' area of operations.

The team, with advisors Col. Grant Jacoby and Dr. Chris Okasaki, returned from the MIT competition with the "Most Innovative" award from Gore Creative Technologies Worldwide. They will attend the 11th annual RIT Student Design Contest on Saturday.

One of the most interdisciplinary capstones ever conceived at West Point was also featured on Projects Day. When the Boeing Company challenged the service academies to envision the future by taking part in creating it, West Point went all out to assemble a team across the spectrum of academia. Most of the West Point team is comprised of engineering cadets from the Systems Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Departments, though additional expertise came from other cadets for philosophical, psychological and even anthropometrical input.

The task of this competition was to design the crew system of the year 2035. In this, each team must develop a crew system design concept and crew station mock-up that ensures mission success and pilot safety. Cadets and midshipmen were given liberty to choose how to present this in the most appropriate and cost-effective way-electronic simulations, analytic tools, trade studies, desktop models, charts and so on.

It's on Projects Day that cadets can demonstrate the chemistry behind beer and how math can benefit a football team. Class of 2011 Cadets Nelson Simmons and Anthony Ruizcalderon Jr. crunched all the numbers and developed an analysis to show which of Army's Triple Option offenses work best on third down scenarios. The cadets took the same approach as sabermetrics does for baseball analysis and the Virtual Gold system used by the NBA for a statistical approach to football.

"We decided to take the different characteristics of our team which makes it unique, such as the triple option, and focus on that to determine how it can be advantageous or how it can be bad for the team," Ruizcalderon said.

Another team of cadets applied chemical engineering principles to a self-made recipe to concoct a new brew for the West Point Kicking Mule Brewery, A Directorate of Cadet Activities brand established in 2009. The team of chemical engineering majors produced a pilsner which was available at the Firstie Club and at several events on post. Class of 2011 Cadet Tyrell Foster never imagined he would be brewing beer at West Point.

"There's something about our beer-I don't know if it was the types of hops we used or the amounts or what-but ours has a unique taste," Foster said.

There was more to Projects Day than just projects. Those cadets who weren't presenting or demonstrating their work had the opportunity to see how their colleagues spent the better part of a year. Trainor, a Class of 1983 graduate, said underclass cadets use this day to understand and appreciate the types of challenges awaiting them in their major discipline of study.

Spectators could also watch the final round of the 2011 West Point Bridge Design Contest, where two Cornwall Central High School students earned first place after successfully completing two virtual bridge designs in two hours (http://bridgecontest.usma.edu/).

"For cadets who have already declared a major Projects Day helps them focus their interests for their choice of senior capstone or thesis work," Trainor said. "Class of 2014 cadets will use Projects Day to help them learn about the disciplines in which they may major."

West Point results from the 8th annual Soldier Design Competition, sponsored by the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies:

West Point sent six teams to the Soldier Design Competition in 2011, returning with the top prize and three teams that placed in the competition. Maj. Gen. Nick Justice, RDECOM commanding general, presided over a distinguished panel of judges from industry, academia and the Army. Descriptions of each winning team are provided below:

1. Modified Hesco Barriers: Team MSBS undertook a re-design of the ubiquitous Hesco-Barrier to save 60% of the time required to create an initial level of protection against small-arms fire when soldiers have to do the filling by hand as seen in the documentary "Restrepo." This project took first place in the Soldier Design Competition winning the Raytheon Prize ($5,000).

2. Tactical Imagery for Small Units: Team STITCH designed, built and demonstrated a low-cost, light-weight, fully autonomous, Unmanned Aerial System capable of supplementing existing mapping data with recent, relevant, high-resolution imagery in the form of a geo-tagged photo-mosaic. This team received the Gore Innovation Prize ($2,000).

3. Smart Phone Battlefield Overlay: Team Augmented Reality built a smart phone application that will be able to quickly access battlefield data from military networks and then present it in an easily understood manner. The data displayed includes real time location and status data for units operating in the same area. This team received the Boeing Prize ($2,000).

4. Power Patch: This joint USMA-MIT team with three West Point cadets and one MIT ROTC cadet was led by an West Point professor finishing his doctorate at MIT. The team created a flexible thin-film lithium rechargeable battery that was integrated into a standard ACU IR flag patch to power small sensors.