Hacking for Defense: Boise State students take on DoD project

A group of Boise State graduate students are working on a Department of Defense project which aims to create technology that could save lives and help to better fight the war on terror.

BOISE - Special forces in the U.S. military are in need of a tool - One that can help them detect how many people are inside a building before they enter. If the development of this innovative technology is successful, it could save lives and help the military better fight the war on terror.

Building that tool is now in the works by a team of five graduate students at Boise State University's Venture College.

“How do you protect the good guys and get rid of the bad guys?" asked Venture College Director Ed Zimmer.

That’s where the Boise State's best and brightest come in.

They are a group of five select graduate students with backgrounds in computer science, design, and math, who are tasked with coming up with a high-tech device that could be worn on body armor or drone-deployed that would give teams in combat situations the ability to know who and what’s inside a building.

"This is an attempt to save human life,"  Said Marine Lt. Col. (ret.) Brian Von Herbulis.

Boise State is one of six universities around the country given a military technology problem to solve by the Department of Defense.

Students found out about the project - called Hacking for Defense - last October and are working to complete it by the end of the spring semester.

The speed at which they're moving is one of the reasons Congress approved funding, knowing that it could take years for the infamously slow-moving Pentagon to complete the project. By that time, the technology would be obsolete, said combat veteran Von Herbulis, who was a deployed to the Middle East on three separate occasions.

Von Herbulis, like Boise security expert Brice Sloan, is volunteering his time as a mentor and consultant for the team, giving them guidance that only someone who has been in actual special ops missions can.

"You can’t put a price on something like that and it really makes a difference," team member Ben Rozeboom said of their experienced mentors.

Zimmer, a former CEO at a Boise design/manufacturing firm, is leading the program for Boise State that will earn the students three credit hours.  The class credit means very little to Boise’s Corey Hennen, who says the project is about making a difference for soldiers in the theater of war.

"It means a ton," Hennen said. "We really are trying to save lives, reduce casualties in drone strikes, raids, all the above. I lost a personal family friend, a detective, in a raid, and yeah, those things hit home. Being able to help people, that’s what we're doing."

A weekly video conference with a program manager at the DoD’s Central Command in Tampa takes places on campus at the College of Innovation and Design.

In addition to the 150 interviews the team will conduct with soldiers, they use their briefings with CENTCOM to answer questions involving the specifics of making a device that, right now, is a prototype made of cardboard.

The team recently got word that they will soon getting the finances to start the actual manufacturing of the device.

“In the end this is going to cost money to make," said team member Megan Lacy. "And so once we stop making things out of cardboard it’s going to be a little more expensive." 

Now the clock is ticking for a team considered to be among the brightest design and technology minds on the Boise State campus. They will present their finished product to the DOD in April.

“It’s amazing what these bright young minds can do, and don’t count anybody out,"  said Von Herbulis.

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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