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Soldier Design Prizes Awarded

By Lauren E. LeBon


The final judging of the first annual Soldier Design competition this Tuesday drew young MIT inventors, representatives from the United States Army, and a handful of war protesters.

The Soldier Design competition invited MIT students to come up with solutions that American soldiers face in everyday combat. The contest was sponsored by the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN) at MIT. Over $10,000 in prizes were awarded to the nine finalist teams.

First prize and $5,000 went to Team “TacShot,” comprising Peter K. Augenbergs ’05, Chris R. Pentacoff ’05, Andrew Heafitz S.M. ’01, and Frederick S. Gay ’07. The team invented a rocket that, when launched, takes reconnaissance snapshots of the terrain and transmits them to a nearby base station.

The ISN, established in 2002 with a $50 million grant from the United States Army, is a group working to create a high-tech battle suit that caters to the needs and comfort of a soldier.

Teams create military gadgets

Team Surreptiles, a group of five sophomores, all majoring in Materials Science and Engineering, took the second place prize with their hand-arm communication system. The wearable device allows a soldier to communicate about directions, commands, and other information to fellow soldiers by using a series of hand-signals.

David D. Lin ’05 said his teammates and he came up with the idea while punting a problem set.

Third place prize went to Matthew R. Carvey ’05 and Benjamin D. Smith ’05 and their automatic parachute release mechanism. The device is designed to measure the acceleration and trigger the opening of a parachute accordingly.

Other projects included a compact cutting tool that can cut through chain-link fences and is 75 percent smaller than other tools of its kind. The tool was made by Dennis D. Dillon ’05, Patrick L. Korb ’05, and Chris Mattenberger ’06.

Cameron A. Dube ’06, Conor P. Lenahan ’07, and David Pitman designed an LED flashlight that extends the battery life of the device and changes from white to red light.

Thomas praises competitors

Competition judges came from the United States army, engineering and management departments at MIT, and manufacturing companies.

“Devices from this competition could easily end up in soldiers’ hands in the near future,” said ISN director Ned Thomas in a press release. “These are real problems we’re addressing, and if a team comes up with a great design, the Army could certainly move it forward.”

“We see dramatic examples in the news every day of how much danger these guys face in Iraq and elsewhere,” Thomas said in the press release. “I’m excited so many MIT undergraduates, in particular, have come out for this competition and demonstrated some amazing engineering.”

Some protest the contest, ISN

The competition drew some criticism from some students around the MIT campus.

MIT’s Refuse and Resist group hung posters around campus with slogans such as “Want to waste your talent? Join us at the ISN!” and “Is $10,000 really worth it?”

Sebastian Raupach G, a visiting physics graduate student from Germany, attended the competition, saying that he felt troubled by the “one-sidedly advertised military research without commenting on moral questions.” He cited the Soldier Design competition and the Lincoln Labs as two major examples of the focus on military research on campus.

“While the stress is defensive research, it misses the point that there might be something fundamentally wrong with doing military research on campus,” Raupach said.