MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Approximately 30 Florida high school students, accompanied by teachers and parents, visited United States Special Operations Command personnel here, Feb. 19, to present their engineering design ideas for SOCOM’s Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit exoskeleton.
Joint Acquisition Task Force - TALOS personnel welcomed the students to the base theater, where they received additional insight on the TALOS initiative before briefing and showcasing their own prototypes.
The Capstone project promoted Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics outreach while simultaneously accelerating the delivery of innovative TALOS concepts to support Special Operations Forces operators.
“I was shocked that we were going to be able to make something for the military,” said Vanessa J. Francisco, a junior and third year engineering student from Dunbar High School, Fort Myers, Fla. “I was ready for it though.”
Francisco was one of a five-student team representing Dunbar High School’s Project Lead the Way Tiger Engineering. Their motto, “Imagine it, design it, finance it, build it,” was reflected in their project, which focused on the upper body of the exoskeleton. Jonas Jozaities, a junior and first year engineering student from Dunbar, custom cut the metal used for their project.
“I used a plasma cutter and lots of time had to be put into the measurements,” said Jozaities. “Besides research, that was one of the more time consuming portions of the project.”
“It’s a lot of work, but the work is fulfilling,” said David Tashchyan, a sophomore and second year engineering student from Dunbar. “I was originally in the engineering program and I felt like I wanted to further my experience with the newer equipment coming in, so my curiosity really drove me to volunteer for this project.”
“To give you an idea, these kids come in Tuesday through Friday usually starting at 6:30 a.m. and I have to [remind them to leave] at 5 p.m., 6 p.m., or 6:30 p.m.,” said David Paulis, an engineering teacher from Dunbar. “Last night they were working until 11:30 p.m., so it’s not a matter of getting them in, it’s seriously getting them to go home.”
Students who were able to attend the event revealed their final projects, which were the result of a collaborative effort between JATF-TALOS and the Career Technical Education Foundation, Inc.
“CTEF was established in 2003 by my wife Linda and me,” said Paul J. Wahnish, CTEF president. “Our goal was and continues to be one of assisting all students in becoming the best they want to become.”
Students also received guidance from personnel from the MITRE Corporation, a not-for-profit organization that operates research and development centers sponsored by the federal government.
“We served as mentors and systems engineers,” said Kelly Powell, a software and computer science engineer with MITRE. “We would teach the students engineering concepts and also the process for developing a solution. With that, we let them choose their solutions, what materials they used, and we answered their questions while helping them with the math that they maybe hadn’t learned yet.”
“A lot of times they know how to bring their ideas to fruition, but sometimes they need some technical guidance as well,” added Mark Wahnish, a mechanical engineer with MITRE. “For context, Kelly and I both started off as co-ops at MITRE, so when we were around the ages of these students, we were having these sorts of opportunities ourselves. I know personally it really impacted me and that’s part of the reason why I’m here.”
Representatives from five SOF Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Program Executive Offices and Directorates attended the event and provided feedback to the students, whose project prototypes included lower body assist, lower arm assist, a fully articulated aluminum shoulder actuated by pneumatic muscles, an aluminum spine prototype, and a prototype arm mechanism crafted from aluminum and polyvinyl chloride.
“My thoughts and emotions were of great pride and admiration for the students and their successes,” said Paul Wahnish. “There isn't a group of high school students anywhere in the country who have had such an opportunity like the TALOS project bestowed upon this group. What a wonderful opportunity to take a real, present-day need and turn on some of the brightest minds of high school students to work on solving it.”
SOCOM’s TALOS initiative will enhance the capabilities of future SOF operators and may one day save lives. The schools’ TALOS engineering project gave students a chance to test themselves with a real-world engineering challenge.
“I am very proud of the opportunity to serve SOCOM,” added Paul Wahnish. “I look forward to exploring the opportunity to expand the effort to more high school students.”