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News and EventsslashSoldier Design Competition

Rocket-Launched Photography System Wins First Place

Student competitors eager to continue working with the U.S. Army

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., February 18, 2004 – Iraq and Afghanistan may be half a world away, but the challenges American soldiers face there were foremost on everyone’s minds last night at the final judging of MIT’s first annual Soldier Design Competition.

About 150 people gathered to watch nine teams, made up mostly of undergraduates, demonstrate prototypes of practical, non-weapons devices of use to Infantry soldiers, as well as police, firefighters, and other emergency first responders. Sponsored by the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies (ISN), the Competition offered members of the MIT community an opportunity to work on innovative design solutions for real problems faced by today’s soldiers.

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

Taking first-place honors and a $5,000 award was “TacShot,” a rocket-launched aerial reconnaissance photography system invented by undergraduates Pete Augenbergs ’04, Fred Gay ’07, Chris Pentacoff ’06, and alumnus Andrew Heafitz ’91 MS ‘01. The system could allow a soldier to get a quick bird’s eye view of surrounding territory by launching a small, inexpensive rocket that sends photographs back to a land-based computer.

The “Surreptiles” team (undergraduates Byron Hsu ’06, Forrest Liau ’06, David Lin ’06, Han Xu ’06, and lecturer Tony Eng) won the second-place award of $3,000 for a system to translate the silent hand-arm signals soldiers use in stealth situations into computerized messages for use when individuals are not in visual contact. The third-prize award of $2,000 went to undergraduates Matthew Carvey ’05 and Benjamin Smith ’05 as “Team TXI” for a parachute release mechanism using accelerometers and a cable-release motor.

Team "EVCO" also received a special $1,000 Director's Award, given for exceptional accomplishment as deemed by Prof. Ned Thomas, for inventing an electricity generator that runs on waste body heat.

Other prototypes presented at the event included two different designs for pocket-sized bolt cutters, a multi-colored flashlight, and a soldier-worn micro-climate cooling system. About half the challenges addressed were provided by experts at the U.S. Army while the rest were ideas that originated with the teams.

The judging panel for the Competition finals, which included several uniformed and civilian representatives from the U.S. Army, said many of the products demonstrated could have real impact on soldiers’ lives in the near future. In his introductory remarks, Major General John Doesburg said, “We have some great young minds at work here. In the not too distant future, these ideas could be benefiting our soldiers.” Doesburg is the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command.

Several of the teams, including all three winning teams, are currently pursuing collaborative relationships with the Army, as well as patenting and commercialization of their technologies. Andrew Heafitz, leader of the first-place “TacShot” team, said, “The most valuable thing from this Competition has been the exposure and meeting people from the military. I’ve been invited down to Fort Benning, Georgia, where they work on Infantry equipment. Working with people like that is exactly what I need to do next.”

Prize monies for the Soldier Design Competition came from MIT discretionary funds.

For more information about the Soldier Design Competition, please write

Back to Competition main page.


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