When the Army wanted to update its 50-year-old process for identifying hazards in the battlefield, it turned to UMR for help.
The result: a year-long design project for UMR students, and three prototypes for the Army of wireless "smart" markers that can identify potential biological, chemical or nuclear dangers.
Each of the smart marker prototypes is designed to transmit information about battlefield hazards to soldiers in the field, allowing the military to route troops and traffic around the problems areas. These high-tech markers are a far cry from the Army’s current procedure, a 1950s system involving color-coded flags posted on two-foot-high rods to identify tainted areas. The current method uses no electronics or computer technology; soldiers simply grab a grease pencil and describe the hazards in writing on the flags, which are then dispensed around the perimeter of a hazard by an Army Fox Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle.
"The goal of the project is to update the marker so that it will store data, transmit the information wirelessly to the military vehicle, make it more visible using flashing lights, and have a taller mast," says Robert Stone, assistant professor of basic engineering at UMR. Stone and Nancy Hubing, associate professor of basic engineering, have been advising students on the project over the past two semesters.
The effort began in the summer of 2001, when Army officials from Fort Leonard Wood and Soldier, Biological and Chemical Command contacted UMR about developing the markers. Stone and Hubing proposed the project as part of their senior design classes — Engineering Design Methods (Basic Engineering 220), held last fall, and Engineering Design Projects (Basic Engineering 301), held in the spring. The Army agreed, and provided $100,000 for the project.
The students’ challenge was to create a marker that would be visible from up to 200 meters, day or night, and that could wirelessly transmit data about the specific hazards so that troops can avoid the tainted areas. Students enrolled in the fall class developed paper designs, based on the Army’s specifications. Many of the same students enrolled in the spring semester course, turning those designs into prototypes.