By Daniel Lafontaine, RDECOMJuly 18, 2011
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., July 19, 2011 -- Students taking part in U.S. Army All-American Bowl activities will be instantly transported to 2032 amid terrorist attacks and civil unrest. They will join a team of U.S. Army Soldiers and civilian scientists to design new technologies to protect lives and defeat the threat.
An immersive, high-tech portal will deliver students directly into the Army’s high-tech world.
The Army is building the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Innovation Asset, a recruiting effort designed to attract and engage aspiring young scientists, officials announced July 18, 2011.
Middle-school, high-school and college students across the country will be able to experience a hands-on mobile showcase of Army technological capabilities starting in January, said Katie Everett, a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, or STEM, outreach coordinator with the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, or RDECOM, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, or APG.
The Army will unveil the STEM Asset during All-American Bowl Week, a national high-school football all-star game scheduled for Jan. 7, 2012, in San Antonio. The Army demonstrates its latest technological advancements in the week before the annual game.
FIRST EFFORT AIMED TOWARD SCIENTISTS, ENGINEERS
The STEM Asset will be a modified tractor-trailer equipped with high-definition TVs and touchscreen computers, Everett said. Teams of Army recruiters and subject matter experts will drive the vehicle across the United States to STEM education outreach events.
Everett said this is the Army’s first recruiting project geared specifically toward civilian science and engineering positions that are difficult to fill.
“This is the Army’s first STEM-focused recruiting asset. The Army has never ventured into that arena before,” Everett said. “It’s a pilot effort for total Army recruiting.
“This will be a first attempt to assess the interesting in recruiting students who want to become civilian engineers and scientists right along uniformed Soldiers.”
IMMERSED IN FUTURE ARMY TECHNOLOGY
The vehicle is split into three rooms that will bring visitors 20 years into the future, said Jeff Warwick, branch chief of Edgewood Chemical Biological Center’s, or ECBC’s, Conceptual Modeling and Animation Team.
Warwick’s team is helping to transform the vehicle at ECBC’s Advanced Design and Manufacturing Prototype Integration Facility at APG.
The visitors enter room one, where they are surrounded by several TVs showing fictional news clips from around the world in 2032.
“They come into the first part, and the first objective there is to break their association of today’s Army with what they see on CNN,” Everett said. “We want to put them in a future scenario that’s outside Iraq and Afghanistan and current conflict. Put them in a situation where they can’t say, ‘That looks like what I saw on the news last night.’ ”
The news clips end with an attack on a chemical plant attack in Eastern Europe. The students enter room two, where they are placed into a team of Army officers, noncommissioned officers and civilian scientists.
The mission is humanitarian focused and requires students to use Army technology to complete the task.
“Students are going to design a platform with new technologies to solve this crisis,” Warwick said. “You are going to save civilian lives, protect the environment and confront the threat.”
In room three, each student will use a touchscreen computer to take control of the situation individually. They will choose from technologies to develop a solution to alleviate the conflict.
“It could be an autonomous ground system, a robotics system, an unmanned aerial vehicle. When they submit the design, the final news clip pulls from exactly what they did. It gives them a summary how their technology affected the outcome,” Everett said.
COLLABORATION AMONG ARMY ORGANIZATIONS
The STEM Asset is a prime example of Army collaboration, Everett said. It is an all-Army effort that encompasses design, development, engineering and production.
Army organizations involved are RDECOM; ECBC; Accessions Support Brigade Mission Support Battalion; Program Executive Office Soldier; Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center; Joint Training Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Operations Integration Center; Office of the Chief of Public Affairs-West; and Communications - Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC.
ECBC’s Conceptual Modeling and Animation Team is leading the design work with industrial designers, graphic artists, animators, computer scientists and programmers.
Computer scientist Azra Malik said bringing together several areas of expertise is important to producing a complex project quickly and on time. Senior Army leaders will review the vehicle in November.
“The key to our group, Advanced Design and Manufacturing, is making sure all of our people are involved. We have to make sure the end product can actually be fabricated,” Malik said. “At the beginning of any project for ADM, there is at least one representative from all areas.”
SHOWCASING THE ARMY’S HIGH-TECH CAPABILITIES
The team emphasized the importance of capturing the students’ attention in order to accomplish the Army’s objective of demonstrating its high-tech expertise.
“We went through a story of how we were going to engage the recruits,” ECBC animator Bri McNamara said. “We decided what kind of technologies we needed to focus on to drawn their attention -- what would look cool and be functional in the future.”
Warwick said the group focused on making the scenario technologically advanced while remaining feasible and believable.
“We wanted to have an interactive video-game design element. We want the students to be personally involved and active in the experience,” Warwick said. “We came up with something futuristic but real. We don’t want science-fiction. We want modern, advanced technology that the Army is working on.
“We worked on vehicle concepts going back and forth with different Army agencies for feedback. We developed an armored vehicle and wanted to add graphics to make it look exciting.”
While the experience is designed to be attractive and engaging, the primary goal is to spur interest among students and educators in STEM fields, Everett said.
“Students leave this with the overall impression, ‘I had no idea the Army did this. I want to do this for a living.’ Because it’s a STEM-focused asset, the overall mission is to see whether we are improving and sustaining relationship with educators and school systems,” Everett said.