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UWF students develop battery charging system for soldiers

A team of University of West Florida undergraduate electrical engineering students at UWF’s Emerald Coast location in Fort Walton Beach has developed an innovative battery charging system for soldiers training and operating in jungle environments. The idea sprang from a meeting with the U.S. Army’s 7th Special Forces Group Innovations team.

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Earlier this year, members of the military approached Dr. Thomas Gilbar, chair, lecturer for electrical and computer engineering at UWF on the Emerald Coast, to present some challenges facing the unit and collaborate with engineering students on innovative solutions.

Students were tasked with developing a better method of charging batteries for the electronic systems soldiers carry in their rucksacks. The military is seeking ways to lighten the load of soldiers’ rucksacks as they trek through the jungle. A former member of the 7th Special Forces Group, student Eamon Anderson, had first-hand experience with the project’s subject matter.

“Having been in the unit, I knew that carrying excess batteries is always a challenge,” Anderson said. “As you add extra weight to rucksacks, a lot more planning goes into how long it will take soldiers to maneuver around. The extra weight in rucksacks also contributes to short and long-term injuries.”

During the Fall 2022 and Spring 2023 semesters, Anderson along with students Daniel Buraczynski and Paul Ruth worked with their faculty mentor Dr. Jeff McGuirk to develop an innovative system that reduced battery charging time, extended battery life and improved overall rucksack weight. The system uses soldiers’ motion as they walk through the jungle to help charge the systems.

“At UWF, we strive to work with local industry and our military bases to bring these types of real world problems to our students,” Gilbar said. “They are mutually beneficial: The real-world problems help to prepare our students for a successful career when they graduate as well as give our local partners access to new, fresh engineers and their creative thinking.”

The system was enthusiastically received by the 7th Special Forces Group. The student team, who recently completed their Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering degrees, is currently making some requested modifications before it undergoes Army range testing.

Anderson said the experience prepared him for projects he will encounter professionally. “In the engineering program, we learn things in blocks as we move through the courses. The project allowed us to encompass the full scope of our learning at UWF and see how it all comes together.”

For more information about UWF’s Dr. Muhammad Harunur Rashid Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, visit uwf.edu/ece.