Tech

May 1, 2012

AFRL design challenge encourages engineering innovation

by Laura Dempsey
Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio

The Air Force Research Laboratory played host, mentor, cheerleader and critic to teams from all three service academies and 17 universities at the annual AFRL Design Challenge.

The challenge took place April 16-20 at Wright State University’s Calamityville, a National Center for Medical Readiness training facility in Fairborn, Ohio.

AFRL collected input from the Lab’s most important customer – the war fighter – in settling on a problem with real-world application and rapid transition potential. In August 2011, teams were given the war fighter-focused engineering design challenge, $20,000, and nine months to come up with a demonstrable solution.

“It’s a total win-win”, said Dr. Alok Das, AFRL Senior Scientist for Design Innovation, the event’s sponsor. “AFRL gets the benefit of some very creative ideas that address a real military need, while the students get an opportunity to work under real-world conditions. They gain experience in rapid prototyping and engineering a solution to a customer need, knowing that their design could truly make a difference.”

This year’s challenge was to design a system allowing a team of four Special Operations Force personnel to scale buildings or mountain faces under a variety of conditions. The teams were given system parameters – for instance, a system maximum weight of 20 pounds, with a goal of 5 pounds. Teams were judged on both objective measures (weight, size, velocity achieved) and subjective measures (ease of operation, useability, stealth, innovation and elegance).

April 16, the three service academies – The United States Air Force Academy, The United States Naval Academy, and West Point – were pitted against each other in the first phase of the Design Challenge, the Service Academy Challenge. For the cadets and midshipmen, most of whom are senior engineering students, the design challenge constituted their Capstone Project. There was a grade involved, but paramount in the students’ minds was snagging the traveling trophy to take home to their school.

The second phase, the Design Challenge for the Universities, was conducted April 17-20. Team were made up of seniors who selected this project for their Capstone Engineering requirement. These students were motivated by the class grade and bragging rights for the winner, but also by the potential for a $100,000 grant to further develop their innovative idea for the Air Force.

During the competition, the teams briefed judges, safety officers and Pararescue Jumpers from the 123rd Special Tactics Squadron Air National Guard Unit in Louisville and from Air Force Special Operations Command (Hurlburt Field) on their process and final design. They were quizzed and congratulated, then grilled by the PJs, who were charged with physically testing the teams’ systems on the 90-foot high, sheer concrete face of an abandoned cement silo at Calamityville.

“I was impressed by the enthusiasm of these young engineers,” said Lt Col David Shahady, lead judge. “These student showed remarkable creativity and accomplished an incredible amount of practical engineering under a very demanding schedule.”

After a long day of testing, failure, simulations, restarts and successes, the U.S. Air Force Academy team was deemed to have the most promising design, beating the Navy and Army academy teams. A key element of their solution was a gun-launched device that would reach the top of the climbing surface and explosively set a concrete anchor for the lead rope. They also developed a carbon fiber ladder, which could be used in leap-frog fashion with periodically placed wall anchors to allow a climber to scale the wall.

Choosing the winner from among the University participants was difficult, as there were several very innovative prototypes successfully demonstrated. In the end, Utah State University’s concept won the day. The USU team’s design used vacuum suction pads to enable two climbers to quickly scale the wall and then drop a rope for the remaining two climbers to ascend with a powered winch won the day. The second place winner, University of Minnesota Duluth, employed an innovative solution that included a vacuum-operated wall climbing robot that set an anchor at the top of the wall.

“The breadth of solutions was impressive,” noted Devon Parker, who coordinated the competition with Lt Col Brett Bolan. “These students overcame some significant engineering challenges to create workable devices.”

In addition to a trophy for the winning teams, all participants received a specially designed University and Service Academy Design Challenge coin from Major General William N. McCasland, AFRL Commander, with sincere appreciation for their efforts. AFRL will glean the most successful elements of these concepts and work to transition a field-testable prototype over the next several months. At the same time, AFRL will start gearing up for next year’s challenge with a new problem to be solved by the next class of young engineers.

 




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Headlines September 19, 2014

News: McKeon on broader military authorization: Anything can ‘fail or pass’ - Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said if Congress returns after the midterm elections to weigh a broader military authorization for the battle against Islamic State, it might not pass. Defense contractor gets 7 years for giving secrets...
 
 

News Briefs September 19, 2014

U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan at 2,203 As of Sept. 16, 2014, at least 2,203 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count. At least 1,823 military service members have died in Afghanistan as a result...
 
 

Pratt & Whitney, U.S. Air Force complete qualification for F135 engine testing

Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Corp. , together with its U.S. Air Force partner at the F135 Heavy Maintenance Center at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., celebrated another significant milestone qualification for F135 engine testing at the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex. OC-ALC which in addition to engine testing is also qualified to perform...
 

 
Navy photograph

Triton has first cross-country flight from Palmdale

Northrop Grumman photograph The MQ-4C Triton Unmanned Aircraft System takes off from Northrop Grummanís Palmdale, Calif., facility Sept. 17 for its first cross-country flight to Naval Air Station Patuxent, River, Md. PALMDALE,...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Michael J. Pausic

Future of NATO: Adapting to a new security environment

Air Force photograph by Michael J. Pausic Gen. Phillip Breedlove informs the assembled crowd about the results of the recent NATO Summit and the areas of instability that affect Europe that have regional implications. Seated in...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Scott M. Ash

AFRL commander describes Air Force’s technology vision

Air Force photograph by Scott M. Ash Maj. Gen. Thomas Masiello takes a question from an audience member after discussing Air Force Research Laboratory breakthrough technologies during the 2014 Air Force Association’s Air ...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>