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West Point Senior Projects Range from Drones to Virtual Reality

A crowd gathers at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, Washington Hall as cadets finish the 2017 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition on April 8, 2017. (U.S. Army Reserve photo/Spc. Jeremiah Woods, 358th Public Affairs Detachment)
A crowd gathers at the United States Military Academy, West Point, NY, Washington Hall as cadets finish the 2017 Sandhurst Military Skills Competition on April 8, 2017. (U.S. Army Reserve photo/Spc. Jeremiah Woods, 358th Public Affairs Detachment)

WEST POINT -- Senior cadets' capstone projects this year took on everything from the use of drones in combat to giving students a way to visit a historic battlefield without leaving their classrooms.

On Thursday, the cadets displayed their projects to judges and the public. Projects Day has been an annual event at West Point since 2000.

Many of the cadets worked in teams, since their projects required knowledge in multiple fields of study. One team with cadets majoring in electrical, systems and mechanical engineering and computer science worked on a project called Swarm Challenge.

Cadet Chris Maixner of New Jersey said they designed drones, both fixed-wing and helicopter-like rotary aircraft, that could fly into enemy territory and disable equipment. The fixed-wing drone also was equipped with a camera that could send back information about the enemy's equipment.

Another project, called Build a Virtual Drone, looked at how to use drones in solving the problem of communication in "urban canyons" when combat moves into a city.

Some are multi-year projects that are passed along from one class to another, with each year's seniors trying to build on what those who came before them did.

One such project challenges cadets to develop a robotic vehicle capable of winning a contest called the Intelligent Ground Vehicle Competition. Cadet Bryce Grijalva-Hylbert of California said this year's team was able to resolve a GPS programming problem past teams could not. They'll be going to this year's competition, which will be in Michigan the weekend after they graduate.

"I think we have the ability to win this year," Grijalva-Hylbert said.

And then there was Cinematic Virtual Reality: Normandy, in which cadets majoring in computer science, history and systems engineering teamed up to develop a three-dimensional tour of the historic World War II battle, which can be experienced on a Google Cardboard viewer. It includes an interactive aspect.

"If you see a cool gun, you can click on it" to learn more about it, said cadet Ian Dome.

While initially intended for military history classes at places like West Point, cadet Jack Dingle of Minnesota said it ultimately could be used in many other classrooms, too.

"That way, students who can't get to Normandy can still experience it," almost as if they were there, Dingle said.

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