MI Innovators: Compete in DARPA’s $4M Vehicle Design Challenges

Seeking to engage innovators outside of the traditional defense sector, the federal government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently launched the Fast, Adaptable, Next-Generation Ground Vehicle (FANG) Challenges, a military design competition.

And officials say Michigan engineers should take note.

Ricardo, a global engineering and consultancy company with Michigan operations in Van Buren Township, will administer the challenges. Paul Luskin, who is directing the program for Ricardo, says DARPA is especially interested in seeing the ideas come out of Michigan, particularly from twentysomethings, because of the state’s wealth of engineering talent.

“People who have never worked in defense but have a background in automobile engineering can be very successful in the design challenge,” he says. “University students should be well-represented too because, at the heart of it, this is a software challenge. A university team with an open mind about new tools used in design work would be very well positioned.”

FANG Challenges participants will use a collaborative design platform called VehicleForge to create vehicle subsystems and, ultimately, a heavy, amphibious infantry fighting vehicle. The program is part of DARPA’s Adaptive Vehicle Make portfolio, which aims to streamline complex defense systems and encourage agile design and manufacturing.

Army Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, a DARPA program manager, says discussions with industry have shown interest in the new tools and systems the agency is planning to use. “We are working to create new tools for improving complex system development—from requirement through finished product—that have applications not just for defense systems but across commercial industry such as automotive, construction equipment, aerospace, and beyond.”

Luskin says the FANG Challenges differ from traditional government acquisition programs in a significant way: Participants don’t have to be part of a big manufacturing company. “We’re targeting a broad range of people—we’d like to see people with engineering or design know-how and good ideas about what an amphibious vehicle should be,” he says.

The FANG Challenges launch later this year, with each one running for three months. The first challenge, the FANG Mobility/Drivetrain Challenge, offers $1 million for the winning vehicle drivetrain design that meets speed, efficiency, terrain, and reliability targets. The second $1 million challenge, which begins in late 2013, focuses on chassis and armor design.

The final challenge, with a $2 million prize, begins in mid-2014 and focuses on the design of a complete infantry fighting vehicle. Luskin says Ricardo doesn’t have a direct role in developing the vehicles, but will assist with registration, creating a scoring system, and selecting the winning designs.

On Jan. 14, all of the software tools, model libraries, tutorials, and vehicle requirements will be available online, with teams also able to test the designs. Starting this summer, Penn State will build the prototype vehicles.

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