Soldiers, students from the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, and TARDEC engineers examine the Virtual Window being demonstrated in a Bradley test vehicle.
Over the past six months, the U.S. Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) has hosted engineers, transportation design students and Soldiers with field experience to create more than 300 concepts for potential new military technologies.
Known as Soldier Innovation Workshops, these exercises were held Dec. 17-19 and May 20-22 at TARDEC to combine these three key perspectives to spur ideas with face-to-face collaboration. They focused on emerging development projects such as the Virtual Window — one or more video screens mounted inside a combat vehicle to show Soldiers their surroundings when deploying to a mission.
The first-of-its-kind event last winter brought together transportation design students from the College for Creative Studies (CCS) in Detroit, MI, Soldiers from Fort Lee, VA, and TARDEC engineers. In the most recent exercise, Soldiers from Fort Hood, TX, joined CCS students and engineers again, plus experts from the U.S. Army Communications Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center in Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD.
TARDEC Director Dr. Paul Rogers emphasized the importance of bringing innovation and fresh perspectives into the design process. “We’re trying to change the paradigm, get out of the typical development process and bring in new ideas.”
CCS students explained how they relayed input from Soldiers and engineers into concept sketches for potential future technology during the second Soldier Innovation Workshop, May 20-22.
TARDEC engineers reviewed the original 140 sketches from the first workshop and will review an additional 160 sketches created in May to identify ideas that could move forward. “We will take these ideas and see how we can move them forward to another project or a larger S&T [science and technology] project and really build on them,” explained Andrew Kerbrat, TARDEC Ground Vehicle Robotics engineer and Virtual Window project lead.
The two workshops featured concepts for a number of specific TARDEC projects including the Virtual Window, the Mobility Demonstrator, the Virtual Imaging Device Interface (VIDI) project and future autonomous concepts. “The learning really came from the students being able to sit with the Soldiers and get unfiltered information, which is always best when you are a designer,” explained Tom Roney, an associate professor in the Transportation Design Department at CCS. “They also got to interface with the engineers who can talk about limitations or constraints that exist.”
Guenter Nyanankpe, a CCS sophomore studying transportation design, participated in both iterations of the workshop. “Last time it was very rewarding, which is why I said that I would love to come back here and work again anytime,” he stated. “There was a lot of interchange with the Soldiers and the engineers. As soon as we drew something we showed these guys and they could tell us what would work and what would cause more problems.”
Tyler Charest, a junior CCS design student, discusses a concept he helped create with TARDEC engineers and Soldiers.
SSG Zachary Welch, who is currently stationed at Fort Hood, TX, was honored to provide his insights at such an early stage in the design process and welcomes more Soldier input in technology development. “I think this process could benefit from having lower ranking Soldiers get involved because they are the workers, they are the foundation of the Army and I think they really could add a lot,” explained Welch. “They are the ones who are working with this equipment on a day-to-day basis so they know the problems, where things break and what the fixes are. I think involving more people could really help this process take the next step.”
TARDEC has been collaborating with CCS’s automotive design program since 2010 when students helped design the Fuel-Efficient Ground Vehicle Demonstrator (FED) Bravo vehicle. TARDEC hired one of the students involved with that project, James Scott, to work for the Advanced Concepts team as an industrial designer.
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