Science and Technology

Undergrads shine in H4D

Innovative class designed for graduate students

Hacking for defense presentation - 1

SUMMARY: Hacking for Defense, a class that provides students experience working on problems faced by the Department of Defense and U.S. intelligence communities, was established at Stanford University in 2016. JMU was one of six additional schools to offer the course this spring, and is the only school where it was offered exclusively to undergraduates.

What’s the best way to take down drones targeting U.S. military personnel operating in a city full of buildings where danger lurks around every corner? And how can first responders from multiple agencies—local, state and federal—coordinate in a disaster area where normal communications channels have been wiped out? Those were just some of the challenges faced by students taking the inaugural Hacking for Defense class this spring.

In the photo above, members of Team Slade talk about their design to take down enemy drones with a projectile that seeks out the enemy and drops a net over it. Team members said they knew very little about drones before taking the class.

students discuss slide being shown on a screen. The slide shows statistics from their interviews and other tasks.
Members of Team VITAL discuss the iterative process each team used to define their challenges and come up with minimum viable products. Teams had to do at least 10 interviews a week with people who had expertise in disciplines relative to their challenge. Team VITAL created a disaster relief mobile app that crowdsources data from victims and first responders.

students discuss slide being shown on a screen that shows a chart with concentric circles filled with colors to represent various battlefield conditions.
The Digital Overlay team was challenged to establish a means for battlefield commanders to visualize all aspects of a battlefield: physical, cyber, geo-spatial, electromagnetic and social.

Students discuss slide being shown on a screen. The slide has icons showing the system's capabilities to detect, jam GPS and capture.
The Drone Detection team created a defense identification system capable of effectively detecting and classifying small objects in regulated airspace. It also had to be able to jam a drone’s GPS communications, track and capture it.

Students discuss slide on screen showing an outline of their system of using drones to perform reconnaissance.
The Deep Clearance team discusses its minimum viable product, a system of autonomously directed drones designed to enter a GPS denied area and look for hostiles, map the layout of the environment and possible traps. When the system falls beyond a certain wireless signal threshold, smaller drones fall out of formation and establish mobile hotspots. The system also can be told to place cameras that can look 360 degrees while also acting as hotspots.

Overhead shot of crowd at reception.
A reception followed the presentations in X-Labs, the maker space at Lakeview Hall where the H4D classes were held.

Darren Halford stands at a workbench surrounded by students.
Darren Halford (right), executive director of Hacking for Defense, Inc., talks with students about their work in the class. Halford traveled from California to see the presentations.

Darren Halford and Jack O'Neil standing, facing each other at reception.
Halford talks with JMU senior Jack O’Neil, an intelligence analysis major who was instrumental in getting H4D started at JMU, the only school offering the class exclusively to undergraduates.

Halford holds a smart phone that is part of a team project.
Halford reviews a prototype developed by the Digital Overly Team.

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Published: Monday, May 1, 2017

Last Updated: Friday, November 13, 2020

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