Vanderbilt plays role in contests to build Marine combat vehicle

FANG stands for Fast, Adaptive, Next-Generation Ground Vehicle and it’s a challenge.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) recently launched FANG Challenges, a set of three next-generation military vehicle design competitions with up to $4 million in prizes to build a new amphibious combat vehicle specifically for the Marine Corps. Vanderbilt’s Institute for Software Integrated Systems (ISIS) is playing a significant role in the contests.

VIDEO: Design a Next-Generation Military Ground Vehicle

The competitions are open to U.S. citizens. By opening the process to outside designers, DARPA hopes it can compress the development timetable for complex defense systems by a factor of five.

Individuals, small teams and businesses and major defense contractors are welcome to compete and contribute, said Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, a DARPA program manager, at an October press conference. The goal, he said, is to “democratize the design process.”

The FANG Challenges are part of DARPA’s Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) portfolio of programs, a flagship initiative that includes representatives of prominent institutes, corporations and universities, of which Vanderbilt is a lead player. Ted Bapty, Sandeep Neema and Larry Howard spearhead the university’s portion of the AVM project. Baptey and Neema are research associate professors of electrical engineering and computer science and, with Howard, are ISIS senior research scientists.

The ISIS team includes five engineering faculty members, four research scientists, about 25 engineers and graduate students as well as 30 undergraduate interns from the departments of electrical engineering and computer science (EECS) and mechanical engineering.

Competitors in the FANG Challenges will create their designs in the VehicleFORGE collaboration environment using the portfolio’s META design tools and component libraries, called the Component, Context and Manufacturing Model Libraries (C2M2L, or “camel”). Once a winning design is selected, it will become a physical reality in the foundry-style manufacturing facility, the Instant Foundry Adaptive through Bits (iFAB).

The ISIS team is involved with FANG in several ways:

  • The open-source tools developed at ISIS under META-X will be used by FANG competitors.
  • The FANG Challenges will be hosted on VehicleFORGE, a web platform for design collaboration developed and operated by ISIS.
  • The components the ISIS team curates under C2M2L will be used by FANG competitors.
  • The ISIS team coordinates the Senior Strategy Panel for the program.
  • ISIS runs one of the three undergraduate competition teams that is testing the emerging META tool suite this semester. Other teams are at MIT and the University of California-Berkeley.

ISIS has other responsibilities, too. “We are running the beta testing to prove out the tools, and managing the training and tutorials for the competitors,” said Bapty.

It is VehicleFORGE that will significantly expand opportunities for collaborative design of defense systems, as a complement to the engineering tools developed under the META program. “It changes the dynamic in design innovation, allowing otherwise unaffiliated designers to work collaboratively on system requirements,” said Howard, who leads ISIS’ VehicleFORGE effort. Vanderbilt’s design for VehicleFORGE was selected over competing designs from General Electric/MIT and Georgia Tech as the exclusive hosting platform for the FANG Challenges.

Registration for would-be designers opened earlier this month. The first FANG Challenge with a $1 million prize focuses on mobility and drivetrain subsystems for the vehicle. It will run from January 14 through April 22, 2013. Challenge II will be the design for the chassis and other subsystems, a contest that carries another $1 million prize. In 2014, there will be a $2 million prize for the best design for an entire vehicle.