Sailors and Stockboys – Innovation From the Deckplates or the Housewares Aisle

By: LT Dave Nobles

original

Deckplate innovation is obviously a running theme of The Athena Project and something we talk about a lot on this blog. We also routinely note that there’s a lot that we can learn from businesses that have been extracting great ideas from their “deckplates” for some time now.

There’s a little general store in Arkansas that believed that mantra, and it worked out pretty well for them.

Sam Walton once famously said that Wal-Mart’s best ideas came from clerks and stockboys.  Wal-Mart grew to be a goliath corporation, perhaps on the strength of ideas that bubbled up from below. Employees with great ideas would bring them to Mr. Walton, or someone who could make a difference.

We see this time and time again. Take the Ann Arbor delicatessen Zingerman’s, for example. As they were starting to grow, they opened different flavors of restaurants. One such restaurant was called the Roadhouse. Management noticed that the store was taking some heavy losses, so they started to investigate.

The sleuthing led the team to ask a dishwasher what he thought. He said that he noticed something in the food waste that the managers may not have: People were throwing away a LOT of french fries. Nothing wrong with the taste, the portion size was just too big. So management reduced the serving size and offered free french fry refills, and it saved the company loads of cheddar.

12759

You can read more about that awesome story and some core Ethos from Zingerman’s by clicking this picture!

In both cases, leaders happen upon great ideas by listening, but the channel to receive the ideas was ad-hoc at best. That begs the question: Had there been a better channel for employees to share ideas, would Wal-Mart have grown even bigger?

The game of Monday morning quarterback isn’t as compelling when discussing the largest retailer on the planet – a company leaps and bounds bigger and more valuable than its closest competitors. Whatever they did worked. Open and shut case.

What if, however, Wal-Mart started to falter? If that blue banner started to fade and retailers threatened to take significant chunks of its market share? What if the chain grew to too many locations and didn’t have enough resources to fill them all the way they always had?

Certainly a grim picture to paint for a retailer, but it’s a picture that some might say is beginning to materialize for the U.S. Navy.

The service is stretched thin, supporting missions around the world. Often, robust deployment cycles steal away from maintenance and training phases of operational units. A fiscally austere environment forces leadership to prioritize maintenance and supplies based on what are affordable, leaving no choice but to postpone or ignore legitimate needs. The growth in capabilities of potential adversarial nations in many ways outpaces our own.

In the face of a plethora of problems, it would be prudent to investigate new ways to find solutions. Athena is just one among several initiatives focused on improvement by providing a channel for good ideas to come from the Navy’s “stockboys and clerks.”

If we learned anything from last week’s Waterfront Athena Project, it’s that great ideas really do come from the deckplates. The peer-voted winners of the event were a team of Second Class Petty Officers that wanted to work smarter, not harder was proof positive. Imagine the possibilities if more our motivated junior Sailors started putting that brainpower toward some of the administrative and procedural issues that were identified in the Reducing Administrative Distractions initiative! I, for one, would love to see a fresh set of eyes tackle General Military Training delivery, the gargantuan preventative maintenance system or the often-confusing Training Cycle.

Well, the channel is there. It’s growing and spreading and it doesn’t bank on chance meetings, like Wal-Mart’s or Zingerman’s did.

The question is, will we take advantage of that channel? Will we continue to beat the drum on deckplate ideas and innovation, but then lose our drumsticks when the time comes to be heard? Will leadership listen to the problems identified or solutions crafted by we passionate stakeholders? Will the passionate stakeholders put their effort where their gripes are?

The answers will come with time, but the channels are there. We just have to use them.

 

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

Creatures of Habit

By: LT Dave Nobles

Clock-vector-3

At every military unit, there is some single document that governs troops’ schedule. In the Navy, we have the Plan of the Day (POD).

Quoting from the top of the POD that’s sitting in front of me right now. Ahem…

“FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY – ALL HANDS ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR KNOWING THE CONTENTS OF THE POD.”

Now, there are certain things you can just count on: Benjamin Franklin said death and taxes, while many have said that the only thing you can count on is change. Well, here on the mighty warship USS BENFOLD, you can count on ‘khaki call’ at 0630 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

The Executive Officer (XO) writes the POD and sometimes may miss adding in that essential meeting to the daily schedule, particularly when there are a lot of other moving parts in the daily grind. I’ll tell you what, though: Even if that meeting is not in the POD on a Wednesday, our entire cadre of leaders will still be standing in formation, bright and early on Hump Day.

Why? Because we’re creatures of habit.

Also, because the XO would scorch the earth if we weren’t there.

The point is that we all have routines and schedules, and the more you do whatever it is you do in alignment with your routine, the more effortless it is. Further, once something’s become habit, it just doesn’t feel right not doing what you’re supposed to when you’ve always done it.

Many books, like Charles Duhigg’s Power of Habit, talk about habitizing through repetition, making any process more natural. Almost automatic.

So, why can’t we treat innovation that way? Why can’t we make it a force of habit and put some time in our daily schedules for it?

Think. Ideate. Repeat.

In the surface fleet, our schedules are packed as it is with inspection preps, maintenance, training and meetings. I get it. But, can we really not find a half hour a day? An hour twice a week? Something?

One option would be to build some white space into the daily routine to allow people the chance to occupy their minds with their own pursuits vice occupying their hands with the pursuits of others, if they so choose. They could think big thoughts and work together as a team to solve issues. Or, they could take the time to catch up on maintenance or administrivia. But, why not encourage free thinking during that time, or even facilitate it?

The true innovators out there will use the time. On BENFOLD, I think we’ve grown to ‘automate’ some of that creative thinking time by openly sharing ideas with each other. Perhaps it’s because The Athena Project was born onboard, or maybe we grew into it while striving to think through our presentations in support of Athena. Whatever the case may be, in our time in between the cavalcade of obligations it’s become very commonplace to see a groups break off in the wardroom, classroom or somebody’s office to think through ideas on how to make things better.

And that’s good.

Somebody will come in with an idea, we’ll apply a little design-thinking to it and away we’ll go to a whiteboard. There is no specific “innovation window” in the POD, but we just do it now. It’s natural. It’s habit.

That concept is nothing new for our friends in Corporate America. In fact, it’s pretty old. 3M has been doing it since 1948 with their “15% Time.” Their engineers devised projects that were so revolutionary but so incredibly “duh” in retrospect, like the Post-It Note.

Many companies have adopted similar implemented processes that bake that free-thinking into the daily routine, or just encourage it as a portion of the day. Organizations like Google, who developed Google Earth and Gmail out of their ‘20% Time,’ have more nebulous schedules wherein the concept of “carved out time” is more of a culture than a rule. When it’s culture, it’s habit and it’s hard to kill.

So, let’s make it culture. Let’s make innovation a force of habit in our daily routines. Sure, it might take some coaching in the early stages of such a paradigm shift, but who knows what we might get out of it.

I’d venture to say it might be something pretty cool.

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

Waterfront Athena Winners: Optical Database and Information Network (ODIN)

Image

FC2 Robert VanAllen, FC2 Michael Owen, FC2 Lisa Stamp and ET2 Erika Johnson pitched the concept of ODIN at today’s Waterfront Athena Project and won the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage in a landslide!

Their project is a concept for an integrated database that combines information from existing ship’s sensors to assiste in identification of surface contacts using EO technology, radar cross section, heat signatures and electromagnetic emissions to build an electronic profile of the ships. The results would allow watchstanders to rapidly identify long-range surface targets, providing increased tactical awareness and decision time.

Coming in second was LT Bill Hughes and his project Cosmogator – a celestial navigation application. Third Place went to a team of USS BENFOLD sailors that pitched a concept for Augmented Reality goggles and tablet-based Command and Control for the ship’s small caliber weapons systems.

Image

LT Bill Hughes pitches his Cosmogator idea. In a bowtie.

There were about 75 innovators at Modern Times Brewery today to take part in the event, including Sailors from more than 15 afloat and ashore Naval commands as well as innovators from the University of Southern California, SPAWAR, Harris Corp, Disruptive Thinkers and the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

We had a great time opening up the proverbial flood gates for ideas and creating strong bridges between organizations. Thanks for all who took part in The Athena Project and helping us grow! Can’t wait for the next one! 

 

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

Related articles

Waterfront Athena is Tomorrow!

By: LT Dave Nobles

TastingRoom_580_400_85_c1

The stage is set for The first Waterfront Athena Project at the Modern Times Brewery Tasting Room — Tomorrow at 12:30PM. The great folks there were good enough to hook up the Dang Brother food truck, so bring an appetite not only for innovation and ideas, but for excellent pizza and great craft beer!

We’ve had quite a few questions about what the event is all about and how it works, so here’s a quick and dirty summary:

The Athenians who have put together ideas will have five minutes to pitch their projects to the crowd. A good pitch consists of the identification of a problem, an idea for an innovative solution and an idea of the action steps necessary to make the idea happen. After the pitch, the floor is open for a five-minute question & answer session with the presenter.

We take powerpoint out of the equation, really aiming to concentrate the pitches for that five minutes. Presenters can bring handouts, tri-folds (science fair style), whiteboards or anything else to get their point across, but NO POWERPOINT!

Each presentation will be evaluated by everyone in the crowd using a five-point scale, based on three factors: Idea Quality, Actionability, and Presentation. After the last pitch, the votes are tallied and the ADM Sims Award Winner is crowned.

Now, since this will be the first Athena experience for many, I’m going to keep the presenters list open until the first project starts, so if you’ve been considering presenting but just aren’t sure you’d be able to make it, you can get in. Just come find me when you get to Modern Times!

For the event, we’ll be doing a Google+ hangout as well, so if you’re not able to make it because you’re not lucky enough to be in Sunny San Diego, California, then you can catch all the happenings on there. We’ll post all the information tomorrow on The Athena Project’s Facebook page.

If Google+ isn’t your thing, and even if you’re at the event, you can connect with your ideas! On Twitter, use #WaterfrontAthena to connect or get in the conversation on the Facebook page!

And finally, if I may make a humble recommendation: If you think that you might not have enough “meat” in your idea to present it, just go with it! The cool part about Athena is that it also brings a network of open-minded thinkers together to help develop your idea! This is what creative confidence is all about!

On this ancient Athenian coin, the AOE stood for "Of The Athenians." And that owl? Yeah: That's Glaucus, the Goddess Athena's pet.

On this ancient Athenian coin, the AOE stood for “Of The Athenians.” And that owl? Yeah: That’s Glaucus, the Goddess Athena’s pet.

As Winston Churchill, who certainly would have been ‘AOE,’ once said: “No idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered.”

Except maybe Laser Cats. That’s pretty outlandish.

But hilarious. At least that’s what the Fox says.

Let’s have some fun. See you tomorrow!

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

Related articles

ATHENA Project Showcase: SWO Service Obligations

Image

In arguably our most controversial project, LTJG James Martin and LTJG Solomon Lu took the crowd’s breath away when they proposed increasing initial Surface Warfare Officer (SWO) obligated service time from five years to ten years.

Before the SWOs in the room at Basic Pizza in San Diego could revolt, the two young officers explained their reasoning.

They argued that, since each year the Surface Warfare community has over 800 accessions, aiming to create approximately 300 Department Heads. They went on to opine that the SWO community was  the dumping ground for low performers, the vast majority of which leave the Navy after their 5 year service obligation.

To fix their identified problem, they proposed the consolidation of Division Officer jobs onboard surface ships from around 21 to around 11. They pitched a three-step plan of action to achieve this goal:

  1. Pass legislation to increase service obligations for SWOs to 10 years or the completion of 2 Department Head tours. Since Congress has enacted 10 USC § 6959, it will require new legislation from Congress to extend SWO service obligation, just as they did in 1989 to extend Pilot/NFO service obligations (10 USC §653).
  2. Reduce the number of accessions into Surface community to match the number of needed Department Heads, factoring in some attrition. Selection can then be much more rigorous, instituting standards that make Surface Warfare the most competitive community in the Navy.
  3. Institute billet specific training for all Division Officers.

Along with these steps, the young officers proposed reducing Naval Academy class sizes, potentially saving tens of millions of dollars every year.

Image

LTJG Solomon Lu and LTJG James Martin defend their idea to the interested Athenians

With some quick math, LTJG Martin and LTJG Lu calculated a savings of $1.7B over 10 years under this plan, factoring in the approximate cost of training an officer and cost savings from the salaries of officers that would not have to be paid.

Their pitch theorized that the reduction of officers and consolidation of jobs would build a more proficient and focused cadre of officers in the surface fleet.

“Restructuring the Surface Warfare Officer detailing process would both save money and make more a more streamlined and effective Officer Corps,” LTJG Martin said. “It’s widely recognized that we have twice as many Division Officers as needed in order to fill the quotas for Department Head. The only result is less satisfaction with jobs that have little clear responsibility leading to higher attrition, exacerbating, rather then solving our shortage of Department Heads.”

LTJG Martin and LTJG Lu are currently developing their proposal into a white paper for publication.

 

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

Yes. Yes! YES!

By: CDR Richard Lebron

thumbs-up

“Never allow a person to tell you no who doesn’t have the power to say yes.

                          – Eleanor Roosevelt

When I took command of USS BENFOLD in the middle of our deployment I simply asked my wardroom to THINK BIG; to be bold, be curious, and THINK outside the box.  I challenged them to do more than simply do their jobs. I asked them to get excited and if not put a ding in the universe a la Steve Jobs, then at least strive to send ripples of excellence throughout the Fleet, the San Diego community, and the Nation.  A tall order for sure.  But, like the good officers they are, they accepted my challenge and said “YES” to me.

I recognized early in my command experience that my challenge to the wardroom to THINK BIG implied a commitment from me to allow us to get as good at launching ideas as we are at launching missiles.  My challenge here was to create an environment where ideas were brought forth, explored and articulated, and where motion would not be mistaken for action.  I wanted to provide that.  I needed to foster an environment where “YES” was a far more fruitful answer than “NO.”

As BENFOLD’s Captain, my role is to ensure this warship is functionally aligned, cross-functionally connected, effectively and efficiently resourced, and focused on meeting all operational requirements, while setting an example across the fleet for innovation, performance, and quality of service.

It’s also my job to do all I can to inspire junior officers to lead and manage and, yes, THINK BIG. That’s not always easy.  It’s not easy because our institutional inertia has a tendency to try and shape their thinking for them.  It’s not easy because in a hierarchical organization, there is a tendency for those at the top to expend much effort in defining the experience of those at the bottom and perhaps even stifle the free exploration of the intellectual landscape. And it’s not easy because in a hierarchy like the Navy, saying “NO” is often so much easier than saying “YES.”

It didn’t take long for one of my Lieutenants, Dave Nobles, to accept my challenge to THINK BIG.  This young officer is quite a whipper-snapper.  Like me, he’s an MBA plagued with incurable optimism.  More importantly, he’s contagious.  Together with some other equally hip Junior Officers he pitched an idea to me that led to the launching of The Athena Project.

CDR LeBron talks to an enthusiastic crowd at the SNA West Coast Symposium about The Athena Project

CDR Lebron talks to an enthusiastic crowd at the SNA West Coast Symposium about The Athena Project

I couldn’t be more pleased with the results to date. The ideas stemming from the minds of our young thinkers have sparked heated debates, have inspired changing the way we maintain our readiness and self-assess our capabilities, have been picked up by institutions of higher learning and are being prototyped into working products, have sparked new ideas, have brought young officers from across the San Diego waterfront to train each other and teach each other the skills necessary to succeed in the Navy over the long term, and have given participants a sense of purpose that transcends the daily grind.

Never in over two decades of service have I been part of a more permissive environment where junior officers can explore their ideas beyond mere rumination.  What makes this experience different for me is the success we’ve seen in converting motion into action as well as the sustained and expanding interest of not just Junior Officers but of Enlisted Sailors as well.  What I’ve seen on BENFOLD is a cadre of innovative thinkers who have gained the confidence and courage to not take ‘NO’ for an answer and who feel empowered to leverage their own interests, talents, and experiences to fulfill the noble purpose of making their ship, their Navy, their community, and their Nation better.  Team BENFOLD is a team of “YES” men and women who WANT to do better.

Frankly, I wish I could say it was my own genius that resulted in The Athena Project.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to take credit for actively expanding the minds of young thinkers and doers?  But the reality is that if there was a stroke of genius from me in the genesis of this grassroots movement of disruptive thinking, it was simply saying “YES” to new ideas when I could have just as easily said “NO.”

I likewise, invite the entire San Diego waterfront to say “YES” to The Athena Project and encourage broad participation.  Use this forum and the spectacular venues to pitch ideas, take in ideas, refine ideas, or connect with like-minded thinkers to put good ideas into action.  Say “YES!”

I’ll see you there!

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

ATHENA Project Showcase: theGRID

Picture1

When it comes to innovation in the Navy, it can be difficult to network and identify individuals who share a passion for the same project. Certainly, initiatives such as Athena and the Defense Entrepreneurs Forum aim to strengthen ties and create a web of innovators who can share a free marketplace of ideas, but connecting people remains a challenge.

Further, it can be frustrating for an innovator to be working a project only to find out that somewhere, someone else had been painstakingly hammering away at the same project. This duplication of effort and thought would be much better served if there was a way for those two inspired people had an avenue to connect.

In the spirit of The Athena Project, LT Dave Nobles pitched the concept for an application that would create a venue for people to connect to share ideas. It’s called theGRID.

theGRID would be a mobile application to harness the power of spontaneous interactions.  Through a bulletin board, instant messaging capability, and location-based interactive services, theGRID will allow Naval Personnel to connect, share ideas and explore new concepts.

Through a one-time, CAC-required registration, users could list their information and search for others that shared the same job, educational background, interests, ranks, specialties and previous commands. Really, any searchable discriminator could be added in as a filter.

Users can filter personal information, and using location-enabling, can find others on theGRID with similar information. For example, you could pop into a briefing at the base theater, and if you wondered if any other Weapons Officers were in the room, you could open the app, search it, and connect.

"Whoa, you know there's a better way to find other Repair Division Officers than running around with a megaphone, right?"

“Whoa, you know there’s a better way to find other Repair Division Officers than running around with a megaphone, right?”

The bulletin board feature would allow users to comment on others’ thoughts and postings, which would provide for another means to search for like-minded thinkers and doers in the Fleet.

Following the pitch at Athena, the team at the University of Southern California expressed interest in theGRID and is currently working through models to determine feasibility and proof of concept. A team of innovators from USS BENFOLD will travel to Los Angeles on Wednesday, October 23rd to meet with the researchers there and discuss the progress and the way forward.

 

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

ATHENA Project Showcase: Illumination

Image

For surface ships in the U.S. Navy, day-to-day operations can sometimes feel like a cavalcade of inspections, assist visits and assessments across a growing spectrum of warfare areas, programs and processes. Many of these assessments are conducted by different organizations, and in typical Navy fashion, the requirements for each are contained in a handy checksheet.

Unfortunately, because each inspection is independent of the others, the checksheets will often contain redundant (or even worse, contradictory) guidance.

LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell aimed to improve this process with her Athena pitch for a program called Illumination.

LTJG O’Donnell, the Training Officer onboard USS BENFOLD, proposed the formation of a small functional team whose charge would be to consolidate the requirements found in each checksheet into a single, usable document for each warfare area.

Time to knock out those ASA Checksheets!

Time to knock out those ASA Checksheets!

The Illumination Team, while incorporating all requisite guidance into a “one-stop shop,” would also provide program managers with an in-depth local assessment of each area of cognizance prior to any off-ship inspection.

The schedule for the local assessments would be overlaid atop the ship’s schedule through the training cycle. Each area that the ship was responsible for would be scrutinized in depth prior to an assessment, while leaving adequate time to correct deficiencies prior to “game day.”

“It’s a tall order to stay ahead of all these inspections. There are just so many of them!” LTJG O’Donnell said. “Basically, we’re just trying to work smarter and not harder.”

LTJG O’Donnell drafted a command instruction governing the Illumination program, and hopes to implement it onboard BENFOLD prior to commencement of the ship’s training cycle. BENFOLD is presently moored at BAE Systems Shipyard in San Diego undergoing a complex combat systems upgrade to Advanced Capability Build 12.

LTJG O’Donnell said that her goal in the long-term is to create consolidated checksheets for every warfare area over the next year and to share those functional documents with other Guided Missile Destroyers that would eventually have to traverse the guantlet of inspections in preparation for a deployment.

“If we can make it easier to ensure that we’re at our top readiness by consolidating requirements, then we would have more time to focus on training and operating,” LTJG O’Donnell said.

 

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

ATHENA Project Showcase: E2E

Image

E2E, or Ensigns To Ensigns, was presented at the very first Athena event (then called WikiWardroom) at Basic Pizza in San Diego.

LTJG Isaac Chase developed the concept of E2E because he felt that something was missing between the training that young officers get at the Basic Division Officer Course and the knowledge they are expected to have when they are filling a Division Officer job onboard their first ship.

LTJG Chase presented the concept as a way for more senior Division Officers to increase their level of knowledge by training brand new Ensigns in seminar-based sessions, rotating amongst participating ships. The junior Ensigns receiving the training would be free to ask whatever they wanted, without having to worry about asking a “dumb question” and losing credibility onboard their own ships.

“As an Ensign trying to learn the ropes, sometimes you miss out on learning something,” LTJG Chase said. “After enough time has passed, you look silly if you ask how to get to a space or how to draft a naval message. E2E solves that.”

The program would cover a different topic at each seminar session, ranging from drafting casualty reports to sharing shiphandling tips to touring engineering spaces.

BENFOLD Surface Warfare Officers training in a ship simulator.

BENFOLD Surface Warfare Officers training in a ship simulator.

USS BENFOLD hosted the first E2E session in August, bringing on officers from Amphibious Ships to teach them about the Aegis Weapons System as they prepared for their Surface Warfare Officer qualification boards.

“They were really grateful, and they all sent me e-mails thanking us after the tour,” LTJG Chase said. “I was like, ‘Hey, this actually works!'”

The next step for E2E was drafting up a topics list and soliciting for other ships that wanted to participate. LTJG Chase put a schedule together and shipped it out to BENFOLD’s Destroyer Squadron to get the ball rolling.

LTJG Chase intends to host another E2E session onboard BENFOLD next month on the topic of shipyard coordination and the completion of work in a complex Selected Restricted Availability (SRA) environment. BENFOLD is a prime host for this topic as the ship is currently berthed in BAE Systems Shipyard receiving an upgrade to her combat systems suite.

“I know I was a bit lost when we started the SRA, and I know I wasn’t alone,” LTJG Chase said. “It’s a normal part of every ship’s life cycle, and it would benefit officers to understand it before their own ships commenced the maintenance phase.”

The more ships that are involved in the E2E process the better, and LTJG Chase is always on the lookout for networking between Surface platforms. As E2E grows, so does the overall level of knowledge of the Fleet’s young leaders.

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.

ATHENA Project Showcase: EARS

Image

With the Waterfront Athena Project just a week away (October 25th at Modern Times Brewery in San Diego), here on the blog we’ll showcase some of the projects from previous Athena events. What better place to start than the winner of last Athena’s Admiral William Sims Award for Intellectual Courage – Environmental Acoustic Recognition System (EARS).

EARS was the brainchild of ENS Robert McClenning, USS BENFOLD’s Main Propulsion Officer and a graduate of the University of Missouri. 

ENS McClenning took a look at the innovative Boomerang system that the Army uses to localize the position of an enemy’s sniper fire and adapted the concept for use on surface ships in the Navy. Using the frequencies of ships’ whistles, he envisioned a system that could recognize the sound of a foghorn and provide bearing and range to a nearby contact in low visibility.

McClenning identified the lack of redundancy for low visibility lookouts and thought that solutions using existing technology were feasible. In fog banks, radar is sometimes unreliable and we depend upon the hearing of our junior sailors for the safety of the ship.

“Right now, our solution in low visibility the equivalent of driving down a highway and sticking our head out the window to listen for other cars,” McClenning said. “If the Army can do it, why can’t we?”

Our friends at the University of Southern California’s Institute of Creative Technologies felt the same way. A group of scientists and engineers attending the Athena event offered to work with ENS McClenning and his small functional team to develop a prototype for the concept.

Researchers at USC prove the EARS concept.

Researchers at USC prove the EARS concept.

Using a pair of Microsoft XBOX 360 Kinects and a smartphone, the Trojans were able to build a quick prototype for proof of concept before tackling a larger scale system. The development has led to more ideas for bolstering the capabilities of EARS, and even expanding it to other applications.

The Boomerang system was developed at a relatively low cost to each vehicle that housed the system, and McClenning expects EARS to be a low cost solution for the Fleet as well.

“We should be adapting the available technology and innovation from other services to fill gaps in our own capabilities,” McClenning said. “We’ve got a long way to go, but Athena has us moving in the right direction.”

You can like Athena on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy.