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5 Winners Selected for Dragon's Lair 6

  • Published
  • By Army Capt. Perianne Duffy

Five servicemembers won the XVIII Airborne Corps Dragon's Lair, Episode 6, Monday, December 6. These trailblazers created three innovations, which were chosen by a panel of technology experts from across the civilian the Defense Department.

U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Justin O'Brien assigned to 88th Air Base Wing located at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, designed a battery-operated, water-cooled plate carrier system, designed to keep service members up to 30 degrees Farenheit cooler in hot and humid conditions.

Army 2nd Lt. Christian Lance Relleve, an Army Reserve officer assigned to the California based 453rd Chemical Battalion, leveraged artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict interior floor-plans based on a building's external architecture.

The third innovation is an M88 gunner harness system created by a team of three soldiers: Sgt.1st Class Keenan Millay, Staff Sgt. Carter Casey, and Spc. Johnathan King, assigned to the 20th Engineer Brigade located at Fort Knox, Kentucky. The team created the harness system for the M88 recovery vehicle to prevent injury or death to a gunner in a vehicle accident or roll over. 

"This episode saw a wide diversity of innovations — from augmented reality to machine learning to welding of equipment already available in inventory. Of the seven presentations, five could easily have won, so the competition was substantial." U.S. Army Col. Joe Buccino, Dragon's Lair executive producer said. "This was the first time we've had three winning innovations. This was also the first time we had a truly joint Dragon's Lair: we had innovations from the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Army Reserves. We also had leaders from across the civilian tech industry and DOD evaluating each pitch."

Each innovation was identified by a service member to solve an inefficiency across the DOD.

As civilian architect, Army 2nd Lt. Relleve used his skill set to create a simplified algorithm to predict interior layout using exterior architecture. His goal is to provide an edge for the warfighter in the evolving landscape of conflict. His innovation allows a strike cell to predict the interior layout and cycle-of-life of any building on earth using AI and machine learning.

The cooling system presented by Air Force 1st Lt. O'Brien can prevent heat-related injuries to service members in combat and training. 

Air Force 1st Lt. O'Brien said during his presentation that "heat-related injuries have been plaguing the DOD." He stated that "from 2009-2019 over 17 service members had died from heat injuries, and the DOD has spent over $1 billion on heat injuries."

The Fort Knox-based Army team developed the gunner restraint system after the tragic death of a fellow soldier due to an M88 roll over incident in 2018. The team searched for a restraint system for the M88 recovery vehicle within the Army supply system, but realized that none existed. 

After discovering the supply deficiency, the team also realized the gunner did not have proper line of sight to fire the M2 .50-caliber machine gun from the gunner's turret. Due to the short weapon placement, gunners have to lean back or sit on top of the vehicle to ensure proper aim. 

To fix both of these issues, the team fabricated a 14.25-inch metal extension to the M2 mount to extend the gunner's space and bolted a retractable gunner restraint system to the floor of the M88, much like the harness design used in other tactical vehicles.

"The impact of this is potentially going to be outstanding with saving lives and preventing injuries," Army Spc. Jonathan King said. "Having a system to keep you from being ejected from a vehicle in the event of a rollover is potentially lifesaving."

As winners of Dragon's Lair 6, the innovators received an Army Meritorious Service Medal, four-day liberty pass and  attendance at an army school of their choice. Their idea will be carried forward by the XVIII Airborne Corps to implement across the force.

"The next step is now working with the DOD on a glide path toward implementation for each of the three winning ideas. That's what we're working on immediately,"  Buccino said.

Capt. Duffy is with the public affairs office of the XVIII Airborne Corps, Ft. Bragg, Kentucky.