Wanted: A Lightweight Wearable Battery System

The heaviest portion of a modern soldier's gear these days might be the multiple batteries he or she has to lug around in combat. That's the word from the U.S. Director of Defense Research and Engineering (DDRE), John Young, who is offering a million dollar prize for the inventor who can come up with the most efficient Wearable Power System. The purpose of the new contest is to "provide superior technical solutions for the individual energy needs of Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors in the field," the DDRE announced on a special Web site. "We seek a wearable power system that lasts four days and reduces the weight of the battery load typically carried by those in the field."

To win the top prize (or cash grants of US $ 500 000 for second and $250 000 for third places), you have to construct the best working prototype of a vest-attachable power unit that can run for 96 hours, weigh 4 kilograms or less, and generate 20 watts on average with peak operation of up to 200 W. In the case of systems with identical mass, a secondary wearability criterion will be used, the DDRE said. Wearability is measured by the maximum thickness of the system as it protrudes from the body when attached to a garment, with the winner being the thinner.

Entrants must register applications with the DDRE by 30 November 2007 (with some nationality restrictions applicable). The competition -- which will be judged by senior-level government scientists, engineers, and military personnel -- will consist of both bench and field tests. The winning entries will be announced in autumn of next year.

The Department of Defense said in a press release that batteries are essential to the mission of individual combat personnel, who must lug around about 8 kg or more of power packs to run the radios, night vision devices, global positioning systems, and other items needed to maintain superior fighting capability.

"In many missions the batteries are heavier then the ammunition they are carrying," Dr. William S. Rees Jr., the Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Laboratories and Basic Sciences told the CNN news service. "We'd like to reverse that ratio."

In the field-test portion of the competition, CNN reported, the top performing systems will take part in an 8-hour trial meant to mimic real life troop activities. Competitors will strap on the prototypes and "subject their power systems to periods of walking, lying prone, outdoor environmental conditions, potentially short-term cold chambers, and off-wearer operation in an airtight container."

So for all you aspiring battery-system inventors, here's your chance to demonstrate your skills at lightening the load service members will be toting into dangerous environments in the future. They could win you a million dollars.

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