Army to honor gear that lessens IED damage

Two of the military branch's top inventions for 2007, SPARK and HEAT are designed to help protect troops traveling in a combat zone.

Jon Skillings Editorial director
A born browser of dictionaries and a lifelong New Englander, Jon Skillings is an editorial director at CNET. He honed his language skills as a US Army linguist (Polish and German) before diving into editing for tech publications -- including at PC Week and the IDG News Service -- back when the web was just getting under way, and even a little before. For CNET, he's written on topics from GPS to 5G, James Bond, lasers, brass instruments and music streaming services.
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  • 30 years experience at tech and consumer publications, print and online. Five years in the US Army as a translator (German and Polish).
Jon Skillings
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SPARK mine roller system
The SPARK mine roller system is meant to detonate improvised explosive devices before they can do serious damage to a vehicle and its occupants. Tardec/U.S. Army

Since very early on in the war in Iraq, U.S. troops have been finding new ways to protect themselves against explosions from roadside bombs: up-armored Humvees, heavy-duty MRAP vehicles, and a wide array of add-on gear.

For good reason, the U.S. Army has seen fit to honor some of those creations and adaptations among its annual list of top inventions. This year, the 2007 Army Greatest Invention winners include a mechanism called SPARK, designed to detonate roadside bombs--also known as improvised explosive devices, or IEDs--before they can do too much damage to a vehicle, and HEAT, a training device to help soldiers learn how to escape a Humvee overturned by an explosion or other mishap.

SPARK is short for "self-protective adaptive roller kit," a mine roller system that attaches to the front or rear of a vehicle. It works by applying downward pressure in order to trigger IEDs before they're underneath the vehicle where their explosions are most devastating.

HEAT Humvee trainer
The HEAT mockup lets soldiers get a feel for a Humvee rollover in a safe environment. U.S. Army

HEAT is the Humvee egress assistance trainer, a full-scale mockup of the vehicle interior that can be rotated through 360 degrees by an electric motor. It simulates a rollover and lets soldiers practice opening their safety harnesses and exiting through doors or hatches, even when upside-down or at an odd angle. It is now a required training stop for all soldiers and for some Defense Department civilian employees who will be serving overseas.

Both projects were led by the Army's Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or Tardec.

The full top 10 Army Greatest Inventions of 2007 have yet to be made public; an awards ceremony is planned for June 12.

For last year's winners, including anti-IED devices and the Buckeye aerial imaging system, which produces stunningly crisp photos, see "Photos: Army touts top tech inventions."