Like many good engineers, Adarsh Ayyar was born with an insatiable curiosity for how things tick.
As a small boy, he was fascinated by his parents’ alarm clock. How did it tick nonstop for 24 hours? Why did it make that strange jangling sound each morning? So Ayyar did what any budding engineer would do – he took the clock apart. He was captivated by how precisely and efficiently the metal gears inside turned.
“Needless to say, I got into some trouble for that adventure,” said Ayyar with a chuckle. “Even back then, I liked to break things open to see how they worked and why they worked in a certain way.”
Lightening the load for troops
Today, Ayyar’s interests span beyond mere timekeeping. As a principal staff engineer for the Human Performance Enhancement (HPE) program within BAE Systems’ Support Solutions sector, he’s working to protect U.S. warfighters and enhance their ability to perform on the battlefield. The goal for Ayyar and his HPE engineers is to design cutting-edge systems to make soldiers and Marines safer and more effective.
One major project Ayyar currently oversees is the development of an Orthotic Load Assistance Device (OLAD), a pair of mechanical legs that attach to a warfighter’s boots and backpack. Nicknamed the “backpack with legs,” OLAD mimics a person’s natural gait and can support up to 100 pounds of equipment weight.
A warfighter’s equipment load affects speed and agility. When there is more weight, there is a greater chance of twisted knees, sprained ankles, or long-term back injuries. OLAD can be manually adjusted to determine how much weight will be carried. It weighs only 18 pounds, and can be removed and folded up when not in use.
“We’re still conducting tests on OLAD and anticipate limited user trials later this year,” said Ayyar.
Ayyar’s OLAD work builds on a theme that has defined his career: helping people. Before joining BAE Systems, he worked for an engineering consulting firm, where he focused on the crashworthiness (how well a vehicle protects its passengers during a crash) of cars and aircraft.
Ayyar’s disciplines were biomechanics and design, and he advised more than 50 clients on product design, forensics, and litigation. He often testified in legal cases as an expert witness on the specifics of crashes.
“Many times, to prepare for a case, I reviewed police reports, survivors’ statements, injury reports, and photos of the crash scene,” said Ayyar. “I asked myself a variety of questions. For example, if someone suffered a particular type of injury, is that consistent with a crash that occurred at 30 miles an hour? Maybe it occurred at 45 miles an hour. You have to take all the evidence and bend it backwards to its logical conclusion.”
Ayyar also managed a project for an automotive industry research group focused on composites, which are materials made from two or more vastly different elements to form a new, stronger material. Certain sections of car frames often are built with durable, yet flexible, composites. Ayyar designed a computer model that used complex equations to gauge how much the outer shell of a car could fracture and bend before penetrating the inner shell, which wraps passengers in a protective cocoon during crashes.
“It was very satisfying work,” Ayyar said, “because I was helping to improve the design to save lives and prevent injury.”
Protecting combat pilots
Previously, Ayyar worked for a major aerospace manufacturing company. Perhaps his most important innovations there involved the redesign of ejection seats in fighter jets. At the time, while most aviation technology had seen radical advances and improvements over the years, the designs for ejection seats were relatively primitive. They had changed little since the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, things like missile-lock systems were better than ever before, so combat pilots in danger of being shot down often had to eject at supersonic (Mach 1) speeds.
“When you eject at that speed, the wind blast alone is like taking a baseball bat to the face,” said Ayyar. “Many times, pilots were killed or suffered horrible injuries. “The way we countered that was by adding more cushion to the neck area and bringing the arms and legs closer together,” he continued. “It was a relatively simple fix, but it improved the casualty rate dramatically. We sometimes had survivors come talk to our engineers, and these pilots would be in tears because we helped save their lives. Even today, with my work on OLAD, that kind of impact and immediacy makes my job extremely rewarding. My work helps protect our military warriors.”