In our Pushing the Limits series, we look how the U.S. Marine Corps is preparing for modern warfare using some of the same tools and technology the enemy does – tools you can buy online and rig up in the field.
Alexandria, Va. -- It's not the theater of war the Marines expect to fight in, but the so-called sumo robot competition is training them to confront a modern enemy. At innovation boot camp, a five-day, hands-on training course, Marines learn how to use the latest in cheap but effective technology. Veteran Brad Halsey created the program, Building Momentum.
"The Marine Corps is amazing in the fact that they are very adept at solving problems on the battlefield with whatever they have. And so why not equip them with today's technologies?" Halsey said.
They include technologies like welding, laser cutting, and 3D printing. The goal? Empower Marines in the field to solve their own problems. A graduate 3D-printed a wrench that would have taken six months to replace.
"So he uses a CAD program, CADed it up, did a couple iterations, printed it, and then it totally worked," Halsey said.
Marines also learn basic coding with kits you can buy for less than $100.
"This is a Arduino robot. Arduino is just a basic design program, software design for guys like me who aren't big game," Staff Sgt. John Sedlacek described. He's an explosive ordnance disposal technician.
"Say, okay, I've got a little tiny room to get into. I just need to peek in there. Okay, well, if I have an Arduino kit… I can do that on my own, program it right there, exactly what I need for that situation," Sedlacek said.
It allows them to be more efficient and execute things on the fly.
"The battle field is moving towards electronic warfare… Not knowing this is going to put you behind – behind the enemy," Sedlacek said.
Terrorist groups like ISIS have weaponized basic drones, even used them to drop small bombs. The Marines are learning how to modify commercial, off-the-shelf drones to level the battlefield.
"Improvise, adapt and overcome," Sgt. David Ramirez said, referring to a Marine slogan. "And this is definitely just us doing what we do best."
For the final challenge of the week, the Marines are given a simulated disaster relief mission. They'll need to find solutions using the technology they've learned.
"Everyone, the earthquake has hit. You now have to drive your robot into the room, assess where the four bodies are. After you find all four of them, your drone operators will step in and deliver them their supplies," Cheyanne Dwyer of Building Momentum said.
One team hits a road bump. A camera they've trained to survey the room goes down.
"Things go wrong. How do you react to it? What did you learn this week that you can apply to it on the spot, in the moment, in a high stress situation? This is the most important part of this training right here," said Capt. Matthew Audette of Marine Corps systems command.
"People call this Marine MacGyvers?" Crawford said.
"That's exactly it. It's – it is Marine MacGyver training," Audette said. "Using circuitry, microcontrollers, 3D printing, computer aided design."
It's the future of warfare.
"We are looking for platoons of Marine MacGyvers," Audette said.
Halsey and his team are rolling out this program around the world. They've already set up a technology center at a Marine base in Kuwait. Right after our visit, the team flew to Okinawa, Japan to run two weeks of innovation boot camps there.