Two Army infantry soldiers win innovation contest with a device to keep mold out of barracks

Soldiers at a Fort Stewart innovation center design a device to detect temperature and humidity conditions that lead to mold.

Reports of mold in barracks and family housing continue to plague the military services, but two soldiers stationed at Fort Stewart in Georgia invented a new device to stop mold growth before it starts. They won an innovation award for their invention, and it is now deployed in barracks rooms as part of a beta testing program.

1st Lt. Chris Aliperti and Pvt. Salem Ezz won the Dragon’s Lair 8 innovation competition in Tampa, Fla. on Mar. 29 with their mold conditions awareness tool (MCAT). The device uses sensors to measure temperature and humidity in a given area and the results can be monitored from a computer or cell phone application.

“We were doing this regardless of the competition. We saw how much work the division was putting into trying to take care of soldiers, trying to improve their lifestyle, the living conditions in the barracks, and we’re just trying to do our part,” Aliperti said in an interview with Federal News Network.

The two soldiers, both infantrymen, work at Fort Stewart’s Marne Innovation Center, which houses the equipment and staff to design and build prototypes. Ezz acted as the chief software engineer for the project. He started working at the center after taking a software design course, followed by an internship.

“I essentially got scouted into this program. I was outsourced to Joint Special Operations Command after doing three months of training with a private company, and then developing applications with them for six months,” Ezz said.  Then I had to repay about a year of time to either go back to the division or to Fort Bragg. So I came here to pay back all the training I got.”

Aliperti worked as a platoon infantry leader before getting the assignment at the Marne center. He used his engineering background for the research and management of the MCAT project.

While the Army has tried to address the problem of mold in the barracks by identifying it and remediating it, Aliperti and Ezz started researching how universities and large industrial buildings handled the problem. They discovered that those institutions were using internet of things technology, devices, buildings and utilities connected through networks, to sense temperature and humidity and detect places vulnerable to mold growth.

“It turned out they were actively sensing the temperature and humidity in rooms, then correcting the problem instead of treating the symptom once the mold grew,” Aliperti said.

The team needed to solve the problem of tracking humidity in rooms where soldiers were away on deployment. They thought of Google’s Nest thermostat as a model, a device that can be read and controlled remotely from a cell phone.

“Talking to the Department of Public Works employees, it is often rooms being left unoccupied for weeks on end, because soldiers are in the field doing their jobs, Aliperti said. “And they happen to leave wet clothes or they ran a hot shower for two hours and didn’t turn a fan on. Things like that were problems that could have been corrected immediately. Instead, the conditions were set for mold to grow.”

The MCAT device involves sensors put in a plastic casing built in the innovation center with a 3D printer. The sensors are placed in the room and send data over the wireless internet in the barracks. The data can be monitored by the soldiers themselves, or by noncommissioned officers and the public works department.

One of the keys to the success of the device is its affordability. Most of the parts can be easily purchased from websites.

“They’re all built off of components you can buy at Amazon. They cost about $15 and $20. What we’re working on right now is redesigning it all into one compact circuit board. Instead of having various components, it’ll be scaled and manufactured. At that point, it should cost more in the neighborhood of $10 per sensor.

At the time of the Dragon’s Lair innovation competition, the MCAT was already well into development and the team was testing it in barracks rooms.

“It just happened that it was at a good level of development to present at a competition. We had a couple of slides made already that we used to present to people when they come to the innovation center and we threw something together and submitted it for this competition,” Aliperti said.

Ezz and Aliperti won the competition out of a group of seven teams. As winners, they get a choice of military school to attend in the future and they were awarded Meritorious Service Medals. They also have an opportunity to patent the MCAT.


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