The U.S. Department of Defense has
found competitions, with over a million dollars in prizes, to be a faster and
cheaper way to achieve technological breakthroughs. The most recent one, a
competition to find a better battlefield battery, came up with three winners.
The goal was to find a fuel cell that weighed less than 8.5 pounds and supplied
as much battery power as the 20 pounds of currently available batteries that
soldiers typically carry for a four day mission. A fuel cell uses tiny amounts
of methanol or propane to trigger a chemical reaction that produces
electricity. The fuel cell had to be small enough to hang off the soldiers
webbing, and rugged and reliable enough to keep going under combat conditions.
This type of fuel cell is already on the market, for boats or to power
equipment in remote locations. The
military one will cost nearly $2,000, but weight savings is one of the constant
demands of combat troops.
successful test was the annual "Grand Challenge" races, seeking better UGV
(unmanned ground vehicles) designs. Three of these have been held so far,
yielding far more new technology than the Department of Defense would normally
get for a $10 million investment in research and development.