The final phase of the Department of Defense (DoD) Wearable Power Prize competition began yesterday when 20 teams powered up their systems at the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif. Large companies, small businesses and individual inventors are vying for a $1 million top prize for producing a system that will provide ground warfighters with lightweight, wearable power for their combat equipment.
“I think this competition is a great opportunity,” said Scott Schoeffel, a member of finalist Team Ultralife, a Newark, NY company that specializes in batteries and power solutions. “Having spent 10 years in Navy Special Operations Forces, I know what it’s like to pack several pieces of equipment that need rechargeable power. It’s great to see technology lightening the load of soldiers so they can be more effective in the battlefield.”
DoD launched the innovative competition in July 2007 by offering a $1 million first prize for a wearable system that provides 20 watts (avg.) of electrical power for 96 hours, weighs less than 4 kilograms (8.8 pounds), attaches to a standard military vest, and operates autonomously.
University of Maine students and brothers Chris and Brandon Look were one of 169 original entries to make it to the final testing round. “Our dad is an engineer and owns a construction company, so we’ve always been interested in anything mechanical,” said Brandon, who is a volunteer firefighter. “Chris serves in the Army National Guard, so in a sense, we’re both ground pounders. We know from experience what might benefit the guys in the field.”
After passing rigorous safety inspections yesterday, each of the final 20 teams attached its prototype power system to a nylon vest that is strapped to a mannequin to begin a 92-hour bench test.
“Each prototype is now connected to a computer-controlled load system,” said Karen Burrows, a Power Prize competition program manager. “We have many different kinds of batteries and fuel cells being tested and some interesting power generators. On Thursday morning as the teams complete the bench test, we fully expect to have some prototypes still producing power above the minimum levels—those teams will then compete head-to-head in a final field test on Saturday.”
The 4-hour field test will be held at Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., on Saturday Oct. 4. Beginning at 7 a.m. (PST), the base will be open to the public and media to view exhibits and see finalists wearing their prototypes as they power surrogate military equipment at nine stations in the final trial of the competition.