Magic and the Soldier Design Competition

This past Monday I missed class to make a presentation to a panel of nine judges including the dean of West Point and head of the MIT Physics department as part of the Soldier Design Competition. This program is run through the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies and pits teams from West Point against teams from MIT to compete for prizes, trophies, and the occasional defense contract.

The team I was a part of is building a hierarchy of drones that can be used to sense or image important battlefield information and relay it to soldiers on the ground or remote command-and-control facilities. The hierarchy includes a “nanodrone” less than four inches on a side, a foldable tricopter capable of carrying sensor payloads up to one kilogram, and larger fixed-wing drones will powerful radios for communicating information back to base.

The obvious magical analogy to make here is omniscience. Synthesizing biometric and positional sensor data from individual soldiers, visible and IR battlefield imaging, acoustic gunshot localization, LIDAR environment mapping, and any other sensing capability using drones as a mobile backbone gives troops and generals alike perfect situational awareness at all times. This is the message I alluded to throughout my presentation and stated explicitly on the final slide.

I also used showmanship techniques to emphasize my points. To demonstrate the small size of nanodrone, I brought one of them onstage. But unlike the other teams that hauled large prototypes across the floor, I carried mine discreetly in my suit jacket pocket. As I verbally extolled the small size of these drones, I pulled it out of my pocket with a flourish and handed it to the judges.