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Defense Department Offers $1 Million Prize for Wearable Power Innovations

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 5, 2007 – A typical dismounted troop going out for a four-day mission carries as much as 40 pounds of batteries and rechargers in his pack. The Defense Department wants to reduce that load significantly, and it’s dangling a $1 million carrot to entice people to help them do it.

The Defense Department launched its “wearable power” prize competition today to come up with new innovations to lighten warfighters’ loads.

The goal is to reduce the weight for the power system that drives radios, night-vision devices, global positioning systems and other combat gear, including a recharging system, to about 2 pounds per day, explained William Rees, deputy undersecretary of laboratories and basic sciences.

“The mantra is four days, 4 kilograms,” he said.

He expressed hope that a competition will attract some of the best minds in business, academia and elsewhere to help achieve that goal.

After all, he noted, it was the opportunity to win a prize that drove Charles Lindbergh to make the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has experienced similar successes using a contest to attract competitors to develop innovative unmanned vehicles able to navigate a 132-mile course through the Mojave Desert.

Now the Defense Research and Engineering Office is hoping to tap into that same competitive spirit to develop longer-duration, lighter-weight power supplies.

Three prizes will be awarded in November 2008: $1 million, $500,000 and $250,000.

Competitors have until Nov. 30 to register for the competition. Everyone -- private citizens, companies, international organizations -- is eligible, Rees said, although the lead member of all teams must be a U.S. citizen.

“If one of them thinks that they can hit it out of the park on this, we are not prejudiced about the origin of it,” Rees said. “We just want to lighten the pack load for our folks in uniform.”

Entries are expected to run the gamut. Rees said he envisions creative ways to generate power on the battlefield, from solar generators to devices that capture the power created when a soldier’s boot hits the ground.

“We want a prototype,” he said. “We want something that is a little bit more than your standard duct tape and baling wire, but it is still a prototype. It doesn’t have to be a finished system, but it has to demonstrate what we need it to do.”

Lightening troops’ loads will go a long way toward boosting their effectiveness, he said.

“Look at what it is that drives success in battle. It’s inevitably a combination of training and your ability to have decision making on your feet,” Rees said. “And that ability to have decision making is directly reduced by your fatigue. The more weight we can take off your back, the better your decision making in battle.”

Information about the technical details, contest rules and qualification requirements is posted on the Defense Department Web site. A forum to be held in Washington in September will review these details for potential competitors.

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Related Sites:
Defense Research and Engineering Prize Web Site

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