ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Two West Point cadets spent time learning about military robotics and software programming at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory May 30-June 17.
The U.S. Military Academy and ARL collaborate each summer to support the USMA Academic Individual Advanced Development program, which provides cadets with an “opportunity to observe and implement concepts from their course work in systems engineering and engineering management over several weeks during a summer internship,” according to the organization’s website.
Cadets Ben Baumgartner and Devin Men worked closely with their mentor, ARL aerospace engineer Raymond Von Wahlde, to program robots in a unique micro-factory.
“At West Point, they let you basically build your own summers,” Baumgartner said. “Usually people go along with what’s in their major. I’m electrical engineering and Men is mechanical engineering.”
Men and Baumgartner used a simple coding language on Microsoft Notepad to send instructions to a fingernail-size piece of metal that levitated while moving above a magnetic field. The “robot” would pick up graphite materials and using water tension, assemble a micro-structure.
The exercise required logic and common sense to use the shortest amount of code possible to accomplish the desired results, Von Wahlde said.
“I’m always impressed with how quickly the cadets rise to the challenge that I give them,” Von Wahlde said. “They were confronted with programming a micro factory that they had never seen before and were able to maneuver the robot around very quickly. Also, they picked up on 3-D CAD building very quickly and I introduced them to 3-D printing.”
Von Wahlde has been mentoring West Point cadets at the laboratory since 2000.
“They’re future Army leaders,” he said. “I was once told to treat the cadets as if they were going to be heading the laboratory at some point, so show them the respect that they’re due as up and coming officers.”
“I’ve learned a lot about what I came here to learn and a little more,” Men said. “I did a lot more coding than I thought I would be doing and I’ve been working with robots, which is really cool.”
During the final week of their visit, the cadets joined a training class on unmanned aerial vehicles with 30 active-duty Soldiers and Marines. Both cadets had the opportunity to pilot a UAV and program it for an autonomous flight.
“Today, 21st century technology is connected to absolutely everything we do,” Baumgartner said. “That includes the Army. Soldiers are going to have to work with stuff like quadcopters.”
“As an Army officer, I think understanding how all these mechanisms work and how everything fits together is really important,” Men said.
Earlier this year, Brig. Gen. Cindy R. Jebb, USMA dean of academics, toured the laboratory and met with ARL leadership.
ARL Director Dr. Philip Perconti told her that the relationship between the organizations has been of “great value” to the laboratory as well as the future Army officers.
“We want future officers to understand our S&T capabilities and our role in building and equipping the future force,” Perconti said.
By David McNally, ARL Public Affairs