Thursday, September 29, 2011

ECBC Advanced Design and Manufacturing Conceptual Modeling Team Works with U.S. Army to Design Futuristic Recruitment Vehicle

The U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center Engineering Directorate’s  Advanced Design and Manufacturing Division (ADM) Conceptual Modeling and Animation Branch (CMAB) is supporting the U.S. Army to recruit science, math and engineering talent through an innovative, high-tech project that simulates the U.S. Army in the year 2032.
CMAB conceptualized and designed the interactive recruitment project for the U.S. Army’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) Innovation Asset, enlisting the skilled work of several different team members including industrial designers, graphic artists, animators, computer scientists and programmers. The rest of the project was carried out by various branches of ADM.
“We have about 20 people working on the project,” said ADM’s CMAB Chief Jeff Warwick. “The order came from the Research, Development, and Engineering Command (RDECOM) corporate communications. Since we do concept work, the request came straight to us.”
The team created a modified tractor-trailer equipped with high-definition TVs and touchscreen computers, providing prospective U.S. Army scientists and engineers with a hands-on crisis simulation. The three-room vehicle begins with a Scenario Room where the students watch a Hollywood-produced trailer. The short film is a series of fictional news segments that introduces students to the problem at hand–Hands of Liberation. The fictional antagonist is a growing terrorist organization that has attacked a chemical plant in Eastern Europe.  In the second room, the students are tasked with the mission to design an innovative technological platform to save lives. Finally, in the third room, students access interactive graphic programs to design a solution to the problem. They are given the option of designing an autonomous ground system, a robotics system, an unmanned aerial vehicle or a future soldier.
Throughout the process, students receive fictional updates about the growing crisis that can make or break their technology. At the end of the activity, students are given a verdict on whether or not their project was successful, in addition to tangible information on how they can pursue a career with the U.S. Army.
“Though we’ve worked within ADM on large projects, the recruitment vehicle is definitely that largest-scale project that CMAB has led before,” Warwick said. “It was also different for us because it required more form over function. For the first time, engineers had to answer to the aesthetic requirements we gave them. Usually, it’s the other way around. I think they liked the challenge.”
The futuristic concepts of the program were based on research, and current technologies already used in the U.S. Army, such as the Buffalo and MWRAPs. The concepts have also been approved by engineers and subject matter experts to ensure that the look of the Army in 2032 is as accurate as it could be, based on what current U.S. Army capabilities are.
“We want to stay as close to the truth as possible, and not veer too far down the path of science fiction,” said CMAB Industrial Designer and Concept Artist Greg Thompson.
The project was led by CMAB with orders for physical construction done by other ADM branches. CMAB wrote the script for the scenario and created the character modeling, trailer package and concept design, including the futuristic armored U.S. Army uniform. Collectively, through the work of various ADM teams, the Division designed the actual vehicle and primary software that drives the entire program. The only part of the project not done by a branch of ADM was the actual filming of the fictional “News Brief,” which was contracted out to a studio in Hollywood.
“This is the first time that CMAB has driven a physical design and worked with the engineers to keep the design as close to the concept as possible,” Warwick said. “I hope the project opens doors for additional creative opportunities for the branch.”
Many younger employees and interns worked on the initial designs and concepts of the project. A majority of the team members in CMAB are under the age of 30.
“The designers created this project for their peers. They understand what types of concepts and ideas will be engaging to young recruits in a way that older people can’t,” said ADM Division Chief Mark Schlein.
The branch anticipates that the project will be received with excitement by potential young U.S. Army recruits, emphasizing the message that the U.S. Army has many exciting high-tech career fields.
Currently, the team is in the integration and software development portion of the project. The project is due to be completed by November 1, 2011. In November, the U.S. Army Accessions Support Brigade Recruitment will begin training with the vehicle.  The recruitment vehicle will be officially released on January 7, 2012 in San Antonio, Tex. during the All-American Bowl. Following the initial ribbon cutting ceremony, Accessions Support Brigade will travel throughout the U.S. in the vehicle, visiting different universities, high schools and middle schools for STEM outreach events.  
“Many people think that the Army is just pointing guns at an enemy, but I think this project shows that there’s more to the Army. It shows them that there is a diversity of people who support the Warfighter,” Thompson said.

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