The three young men are working on a project for a military unit headquartered in northwest Florida – it cannot be named for security reasons – as part of an initiative by the Department of Defense to get young people to work on challenges facing the military and intelligence community.

PENSACOLA – Half a world from the University of West Florida campus, Islamic State terrorist leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a US military raid in Syria.

Soon after, the world learned that Conan, a military working dog, played a pivotal role in neutralizing al-Baghdadi, news that was particularly relevant to three UWF students.

Throughout the summer, the three students worked on a camera system to improve the connection between military dogs and their handlers so that handlers know what their dogs are doing when they are out of sight.

The three young men are working on a project for a military unit headquartered in northwest Florida – it cannot be named for security reasons – as part of an initiative by the Department of Defense to get young people to work on challenges facing the military and intelligence community.

“At least for me, it was very interesting to see the use of military working dogs in this situation,” said Ty Faist, a student specializing in international studies, of al-Baghdadi’s death. “It’s not something you hear about very often. It’s usually something that is behind the limelight.”

Faist, 23, and Trey Hillard, 29, a senior computer scientist who served eight years in the military, and Quinton Fallon, 21, who recently graduated with a degree in cybersecurity, spent the summer with the local military unit as part of a nontraditional college course called Innovative Solutions for Industry.

The course is UWF’s means of participating in Hacking For Defense (H4D), a Department of Defense initiative that teaches students how to work with the country’s defense and intelligence communities to quickly address emerging threats and security challenges.

“As part of Hacking For Defense, you work with sponsors from a variety of government agencies or organizations,” said Faist. “They give you a mission statement and they basically say, ‘This is something that is not entirely right for us or that we have a problem with.’ Your job is to find out how you can solve this problem through a series of interviews with people connected to the problem and to try, if you can, to develop a possible solution to it. “

The program is a natural addition to the area given the outstanding military presence, said Donovan Chau, the UWF professor who also serves as the school’s director of research engagement. Chau, who brought H4D to campus a little over two years ago, also serves in the Navy Reserve.

“It’s not your traditional course,” said Chau. Students are recruited from a wide variety of academic disciplines and have recently come from the fields of political science, computer science, journalism, and the arts. “

“The idea behind the course,” explained Chau, “is to take a startup technology company’s methodology … and apply it to real-world problems.”

Therefore there are only a handful of lectures. For the rest of the time – and according to Faist and Hillard the time investment is considerable – the student teams meet with the group that raised the problem and other groups that may have a similar problem to come up with an approach to it to tackle.

“It’s a lot of work for the students,” said Chau. “That’s one of the reasons we’re offering it in the summer because it goes way beyond what a normal class would be.”

In addition to their in-depth conversations with the local military unit, the three UWF students who developed the Guided Fur Missile Tactical Camera System spoke to law enforcement and sheriff offices in Florida, Alabama and Louisiana, as well as some search and rescue organizations.

They’re still at the prototyping stage – in fact, the trio started a company, TQT Industries, to turn the idea into a reality – but what they’re working towards is an ultra-low light camera with an infrared sensitive camera that provides continuous video. Feed to a mobile device used by the dog handler from a distance of several hundred meters.

Once this is buttoned, the team plans to investigate further development of the system so that the dog and its handler can interact over the digital connection.

Although the course has ended, the team and its new company have applied for government funding to continue their work. In the meantime, according to Chau, the university has decided to provide start-up funding.

“There are some opportunities for this team,” said Chau. The military unit and law enforcement teams that the team met with are very interested in the Guided Fur Missile.

“We have already been told that they are ready to buy and start testing,” said Chau.

According to Hillard, “local law enforcement, SWAT and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) units are really interested in this ability because it allows them to peek inside a building so they don’t have to be inside.” And Hillard added, “The increased situational awareness of what exactly the dog is looking for or what it is looking for gives the handler much more information.”

“To me,” Chau said, “this shows that the real innovators are the students. They are the ones who are young and think very differently from the faculty. There really is no limit to what these students can do when You once give them … the opportunity to work on real problems. “

Overall, according to Chau, it is the UWF’s goal to become a point of contact for military facilities in the region that become aware of H4D.

“You are slowly learning that we have this program and we would like to have the opportunity to speak to anyone who might be interested in working with us,” said Chau.

“We have talented students here,” added Chau. “Many of them already have military affiliations. They are either military dependents or spouses, or they are veterans or reservists and the like. Many of them want to give something back to the country even though they no longer do that.” Uniform. … It helps that they understand what it is like to be in the military. This is one of the defining characteristics of our student body. “