As we approach our next Waterfront Athena Event – February 13th at the Ballast Point Brewery Tasting Room in Little Italy – we’re going to showcase some of our past projects here on the blog. Both to give everyone an update on what our Sailors have done, but also to stir up some creative juices from any would-be presenters out there. What better place to start than our last winners? Enjoy!
-The Athena Team
When USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) deployed last year to the US Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility, she spent an awful lot of time in the Arabian Gulf. The ship, like most Ballistic Missile Defense destroyers deployed to that AOR, spent that time conducting a plethora of mission sets while waiting to be called upon for any exercise or event that would require the use of the specialized mode of SPY radar.
As any Sailor who’s spent time in the Arabian Gulf can attest, it is a high-traffic environment. While steaming around the area, from mission to mission, watchstanders FC2(SW) Robert VanAllen, FC2(SW) Michael Owen and FC2(SW) Lisa Stamp became frustrated with the way the destroyer identified ships in her vicinity. With the available systems and tools, BENFOLD managed to effectively identify nearby ships, but the three Fire Controlmen collectively felt that the process was ripe for improvement.
Fast-forward six months later, the team got wind of The Athena Project and put together a presentation on a system that could remedy the process. They called it the Optical Database and Information Network (ODIN).
“Millions of dollars of technology and thousands of hours of training were put on hold as watchstanders played advanced ‘Pictionary: Warships Edition’ attempting to identify visual contacts,” said FC2(SW) Owen, a CIWS Technician. “Watchstanders flipping through a Jane’s catalog in the middle of this environment is one of the most ridiculously, inexplicably inefficient sights in our modern Navy. The expertise and technology already exists for us to do better, and we sought to codify that with our ODIN presentation.”
And codify they did. In their pitch, the team proposed using software (not unlike the facial recognition software resident on nearly every smartphone) to pick out easily-identifiable aspects of nearby ships – mast location, heat signatures, size and aspect, etc. – and narrow down the list of ships that a contact could be down. By their assertion, simple algorithms could do the lion’s share of the legwork using visual data already being collected by ships.
Well, their pitch was clearly top-notch, because these three junior Sailors won Waterfront Athena, taking home the Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage.
Shortly after the event, the team began working directly with a group of individuals at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR) working a project called RAPIER that would use overhead imagery to identify surface contacts. The marriage of the ODIN and RAPIER teams was smart, as many of their efforts would work toward the same goal: Building an accurate Recognized Maritime Picture that all could use.
The RAPIER team, led by Ms. Heidi Buck in the Advanced Analysis Systems Branch at SPAWAR has been interfacing directly with the three BENFOLD Sailors on a path to make their idea from Athena a reality. The teams have exchanged media, had several meetings, and have arranged for an upcoming ship tour to give the scientists at SPAWAR a better view of the challenges Sailors face at sea. In fact, the Learning Warfighter Needs Workshop was born through the continued, strong relationship between The Athena Project and SPAWAR!
Currently, the SPAWAR team is sifting through the hours of imagery that the ODIN team has sent over. Soon, they expect an algorithm to be built to demonstrate proof of concept – an important step for any project.
“The response to our ODIN presentation has been really encouraging- scientists and engineers are interested and increasingly invested in a solution presented not by admirals, or master chiefs, but by the very people these technologies are intended to aid,” Owen said. “I sincerely hope anyone else out there with an idea sees what we’ve accomplished so far with ODIN and finds a way to come forward, be it via Athena or another format, and help shape their Navy and the Navy of generations of future Sailors.”
The road to realization for the ODIN team is still a long one, but the three FCs are speeding down it, with their phenomenal idea in the passenger seat!
And they aren’t stopping anytime soon!