Senior design helps DoD protect personnel

Our military members trek into dangerous territory on a daily basis, and sometimes their equipment can bring back unwanted remnants of the war zones they leave behind that can pose additional potential threats. But two George Mason University mechanical engineering senior design teams are finding a way to make the process of removing the threats by decontaminating the equipment safer and more time and cost efficient for our soldiers.

When military vehicles leave safe zones, they must be decontaminated of any chemical toxins that were picked up before they can return. This process often entails a lot of manual labor and high levels of exposure to chemical agents for those tasked with finding and neutralizing them. To make the process safer the teams are building autonomous vehicle sprayers that will spray the entire military vehicle, and its undercarriage, with a detection spray that the military already uses.

“The main issue is that these people are using a handheld sprayer to spray down the entire car,” says Vineet Nair, one of the team’s leaders. “That just takes a lot of time, so they want us to automate the process.”

Effectively, their autonomous robot or sprayer frame will spray the vehicle with the chemical detection spray in about 10 minutes, and the detection spray will show the decontaminators where the chemical agents are located so that they can localize their efforts.

“Our design will make it safer because they [soldiers] don’t have to be so close to the chemical warfare agents for longer periods of time,” says Matias Gipler, one of the team members.

The teams are still in the planning phase of their year-long project that is sponsored by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, an agency within the Department of Defense. They had a few setbacks at the start of their project when their statement of work got changed one month into their design process.

“We had to go back to the drawing board and completely redesign,” says Ivory Sarceno, one of the team members. “But that’s what happens in the real world of engineering.”

They are nailing down their final design in November, and the team members are excited to start building their project. Even with their setback, they feel they’ve caught up and are on the right track. They cited time management as their main challenge since they are juggling the project along with other courses, jobs, and clubs.

However, they feel prepared with engineering principals they have already learned at Mason to take on their project. “This project is very hands on, and it lets you know what goes on in a real job with the engineering and business sides of the project,” says Angelica Watson, team member.