June 24, 2002 ROLLA, Mo. -- When Army officials at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., decided to update the Army's 50-year-old process for identifying hazards in the battlefield, they turned to the University of Missouri-Rolla, just 30 miles away, for help. A group of UMR students complied, and recently turned over to the Army three prototypes of new, wireless "smart" markers designed to identify potential biological, chemical or nuclear hazards in the battlefield.
The smart markers are designed to transmit information about the hazards to soldiers in the field, thereby warning them of dangers and routing military traffic around the hazards. The UMR students developed the prototype markers as part of two design classes in UMR's basic engineering department.
The prototypes would update the Army's current method for marking hazards. Since the early 1950s, the Army has used color-coded flags posted on two-foot-high rods to identify areas contaminated by chemical, nuclear or biological hazards. The current system uses no electronics or computer technology. Soldiers simply describe the hazards in writing, using a grease pencil to write on the flags, and the markers are dispensed around the perimeter of a hazard by an Army Fox Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle.
The students' challenge was to create a new kind of marker -- one 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.
"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 Dr. Robert Stone, assistant professor of basic engineering at UMR. Stone and Dr. Nancy Hubing, associate professor of basic engineering, have been advising students on the project over the past two semesters.
The effort began last summer, 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 in the fall of 2001, and Engineering Design Projects (Basic Engineering 301), held in the spring 2002 semester. The Army agreed, and funded the project with a $100,000 grant.
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.
On Tuesday, May 14, the students presented Fort Leonard Wood officials with the most recent prototypes. The military is now testing the prototypes at Fort Leonard Wood, which is about 30 miles west of Rolla.
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