By Mr. Timothy Rider (RDECOM)June 4, 2012
A Soldier's quest started small, with a simple inspiration during a cadet field exercise in 2010.
His West Point electrical engineering and computer science class instructor gave him the "go-ahead" to follow that inspiration to the completion of his senior class project.
With some computer wires, a working knowledge of computer code and some inventive wizardry, Senior Cadet Derek Wales obtained and cobbled together parts he found in online searches to make his first "DemonEye."
Today, Wales is a first lieutenant and scout platoon leader in 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division. He now seeks the go-ahead for something considerably more ambitious, roughly 50,000 times more ambitious.
His ambition is to see roughly that many Soldiers carrying DemonEye, and it is reinforced every time he shows Soldiers his former science project and they tell him, "I want one!"
The reason Soldiers like DemonEye is because it gives them something of considerable battlefield significance -- a "grid" -- and with DemonEye they get it fast, said Wales.
Shorthand for grid coordinate, the "grid" is a code of letters and numerals that identify locations on the earth's surface. A ten-digit grid coordinate translates to accuracy within ten meters.
To get a "grid," Soldiers typically use a map and a compass to determine their own location in relation to visible features that are represented on the map. Next, they determine the direction and estimate the distance to the target. It is a process that takes time to perform and training and experience to perfect.
With DemonEye, Soldiers need simply look through a scope, center the reticule on the target, and press its "target" button. In an instant, a laser rangefinder, global positioning satellite receiver, inclinometer and computer processor perform some programmed processes and display the coveted "grid."
What can a Soldier do with a "grid?"
"Give me five different Soldiers and you'll get five different ways they can use it," said Wales.
Wales gave three examples:
If you're a cavalry scout and a fellow troop member is injured and needs the kind of medical attention only a field hospital can provide, then a "grid" to include in a "nine-line MEDEVAC request" (medical evacuation by helicopter) can't come fast enough. What can be faster than "Lazing the LZ (landing zone)," and radioing the request?
If you're a Soldier and need to report to an oncoming convoy of "friendlies" about a roadside object that could be a deadly improvised explosive device, then pull DemonEye out of your pocket and radio in the grid. The convoy can then act to avoid a hazard that is a leading cause of deaths and injuries in Afghanistan.
If you're in an infantry squad that is taking fire from a nest of enemy fighters, why take out a map and compass and calculate to determine the enemy position when you can press "target" and get a quick "grid?"
With accurate and responsive artillery capabilities that are used by Soldiers today, Like a Picatinny-developed 155mm Excalibur artillery round or a 70mm Advanced Precision Mortar Initiative round being delivered via the "digital" Mortar Fire Control System, the Army has a growing capability to eliminate threats with speed and accuracy.
"But none of that accuracy is possible without a precise target grid," reads a slide Wales carries with him along with an inventory of five DemonEye prototypes.
Wales came to Picatinny Arsenal to "gain some momentum for the project and get it into the hands of the warfighters," he said. Duty-bound to perform for his unit, he said that his unit's leadership also recognizes that success with his project could one day contribute to his unit and others.
They provided him the opportunity to seek help at the U.S. Army Armament Research Development and Engineering Center. He wanted, "to see if they could do some of the heavy lifting," especially in working with a lengthy and confusing acquisition process.
On May 2, he was given a whirlwind tour by Andrea Stevens, a "catalyst" with the Innovative Developments Everyday at ARDEC (IDEA) program. The IDEA program was born out a study on how to perfect the process of turning original ideas into items that improve Army capabilities.
One function the IDEA program has is to help inventors collaborate. Stevens took Wales to meet with more than 30 people, including technologists, future fire control application developers, experts in scope technology, prototyping, acquisition and innovation, as well as senior ARDEC leaders and a military officer. "Andrea was actually very helpful in all of this," said Wales.
He also left a DemonEye prototype with ARDEC's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Directorate where its Soldiers have found uses for it in their daily activities, said its Senior Noncommissioned Officer, Master Sgt. Charles Gross. "It's a handy tool to have around."
Before conducting explosives operations, EOD Soldiers need to first ensure they are safely distant from buildings and people, which often makes knowing grid coordinates an essential part of their operations, Gross explained. He said he will take the DemonEye prototype to operational EOD units to solicit feedback.
Wales hears both praise and suggestions from Soldiers, and he has taken the suggestions to heart. His biggest priorities are, most importantly, to improve the ruggedness, and to increase the range and explore the possibility of exploiting night vision technology.
"In conjunction with Picatinny, we're going to make some incremental improvements and start moving the design to a place where it can be fielded," he said.
However, the one aspect of the existing design that Wales advocates most vigorously is the low cost that accompanies his Spartan approach to design. DemonEye's key feature is it's adherence to what he describes as the Ford principle: "Provide a useful product that moves it from a sparse luxury to a modern necessity, like a car or cell phone."
Systems with DemonEye capabilities and more are available in the Army inventory, Wales explained. They give an accurate grid and some have advanced capabilities like night vision, but they are larger, making them impractical to carry around. They are also so expensive that they are distributed not to many Soldiers but to only a select few.
That sparse distribution translates into lost opportunities. Conversely, the opportunities to report grids are enhanced by more Soldiers with a speedy capability, he explained.
In the near-term, Wales' goal is to make a capable system that Soldiers can fit into their pockets with a cost low enough to attract the Army to buy them by the thousands. That way, the capability is available "down to the last link in the targeting chain--to the squad of a dozen or so Soldiers."
For now that means continuing the improvements he started when he first made contact with Picatinny via Ralph Tillinghast who operates the Collaboration Innovation Lab, which is part of the IDEA program. Also, it means exploiting the contacts he made via the tour with Stevens.
For Tillinghast and the IDEA program personnel, the contact with Wales has already paid off. They left for the U.S. Military Academy May 3 to explore whether other cadet science projects might one day increase Army capabilities.
As a result of that visit, ARDEC is now exploring whether to support nine projects by working with the cadets toward patent applications, according to Tillinghast.
After the next generation DemonEye prototype, Wales said, "I want to be involved all the way until the contract is signed to buy 50,000 units."
After that, his reward would come in the form of the sweet chatter of DemonEye "grids" being reported over his unit's radio network.