Today’s The Day!

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Waterfront Athena Five is today at Societe Brewing Company in San Diego! There are some great ideas lined up and some eager presenters ready to pitch to our innovative audience, both from the Navy and beyond.

The event will start at noon, with about a half hour built in for presenter check-ins, general mingling and your first chance to grab some excellent Thai food from the on-site food truck before we kick off.

There are some really awesome companies in the tech, defense and energy industries that will be joining us, as well as some of our friends from academia, and we’ll have several demonstrations of cool new gadgets and prototypes of past projects.

You can get in on the conversation using #WaterfrontAthenaFive on Twitter or Facebook, or you could just go the old analog way by voting and scribbling feedback in Sharpie at the event!

So, come one, come all for an afternoon of creative confidence, new ideas and innovation! We hope to see you out there!

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Waterfront Athena is a Week Away!

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Greetings, Athenians!

On May 30th in the warm confines of San Diego, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) will be hosting the fifth Waterfront Athena Project event at Societe Brewing Company.  We’ll gather at noon and kick off presentations after everyone’s had a chance to mingle and grab their beverage of choice.

Everyone is invited to this casual forum, whether it’s just to attend and vote on Sailors’ projects, or to present an idea of your own. For those of you new to this site, or unfamiliar with Athena, here’s a rundown of how it works:

The Athena Project is basically a Shark Tank-meets-TED Talks event that showcases deckplate ideas and innovations from the Fleet, giving Sailors a voice and connecting concepts with scientists and engineers from industry who may be able to help them come to life. Presenters are given five minutes to make their pitch – usually including the problem they’ve identified, a creative solution to remedy it, and a plan to make it happen. After that pitch, there’s a five-minute question-and-answer session from the Athenians in the crowd, who then vote on the ideas based on Idea Quality, Actionability and Presentation. At the end, we’ll tally the votes and crown the winner of the Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage – a title that earns Athena support to make the idea happen over the next quarter.

For pitches, prototypes and visuals (posters, pamphlets, etc.) are certainly encouraged, but there’s NO POWERPOINT allowed. And for anyone interested in pitching an idea, registration is still open, just e-mail ATHENA@ddg65.navy.mil or message us on Facebook or Twitter (@AthenaNavy).

Automated celestial navigation - coming soon to a ship near you!

Automated celestial navigation – coming soon to a ship near you!

Ideas from previous Athena events are really taking off, which is part of the magic of The Athena Project.  Several concepts have been prototyped by our friends at Lockheed Martin, SPAWAR and the University of Southern California Institute of Creative Technologies to name a few, and we have a few ideas that have gained funding to be created, including CosmoGator – a FY15 CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell project – and the Optical Database and Information Network (ODIN), the winning idea from Waterfront Athena Three. Other Sims Award-winning concepts, such as PartnerShips from Waterfront Athena Four, are going live soon.

Unlike some innovation initiatives in the Department of Defense and beyond, ideas pitched at Athena actually go somewhere, and the bridges that we’ve built through this project are strong enough to support the wait of a bevy of brilliant ideas to come. For Waterfront Athena Five, we’ll have boatloads (pun intended) of folks from cutting-edge technology, energy, academic and defense organizations in attendance, so who knows: Maybe your idea will be then next to take off!

That said, the greatest part about The Athena Project is not the shiny widgets that come from it, but rather the growing culture of creativity fostered through our Athenians. It’s always been the goal of Athena to build a cadre of creative (sometimes disruptive) thinkers who can solve problems in unique ways. With this cadre of bold, forward thinkers, we can make the Navy better.

As John Ruskin once famously said: “The highest reward for a person’s toil is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” 

So, I’ll leave you with a call to arms: Come join us! Present your big ideas (or your small solutions that have been hiding in plain sight) and be a part of the movement for a more innovative Fleet. If you don’t have an idea this time around, that’s cool too: At least some and connect for some creative thought, awesome ideas and great food and drink!

See you there!

 

 

Swinging Level – How Baseball Can Inspire Innovation

By: LT Dave Nobles

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Growing up, I played a lot of baseball. While I was certainly no child prodigy, I wasn’t half bad either.

Like every Little Leaguer, I desperately wanted to knock the casing off the ball, a la Roy Hobbes in The Natural.  So, like most kids in Little League, I’d swing about as hard as I could, trying to uppercut the ball right out of the ballpark.

And, I usually missed.

Not to be discouraged, I practiced.  I took hours upon hours of batting practice, and I worked hard to get my swing right.  One thing that sticks out in my head about those hours at the ballpark was something that my Dad told me as he pitched me buckets upon buckets of baseballs, likely doing permanent damage to his pitching arm:

Just swing level, and the power will come.

So I did, and I actually got pretty good. I was consistently making solid contact and before long I was comfortable in the batter’s box and was spraying line-drive base hits all over the field.

But, I wasn’t hitting any home runs. Sadly, I wasn’t blasting baseballs into the lights, creating explosions and raining sparks onto the field as I trotted triumphantly around the bases as I had hoped. But, I was doing very well for the team and I was having fun.

Then it happened. With a level swing, I crushed a ball in a game further than I ever had, straight out of the park.

The Old Man was right: Swing level and the power will come. And it did.

Now maybe it’s just because baseball season is upon us and it makes me feel a little nostalgic, but I was reminded of this story as I considered the Navy’s relentless (and often misguided) pursuit of innovation.

Now, let the record show that I do not think that innovation is a false pursuit. I wouldn’t be on the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell if I did. Calling innovation a fruitless goal is like saying Home Runs are a bad thing. Home Runs are always good, provided you’re on the team that’s hitting them!

Rather, if we want more innovation, perhaps we should pursue and inspire creativity. Just as if we want the long ball, we should take the time to coach fundamental baseball to our young players. If we want our folks to innovate, we need to teach the tools necessary to realize that goal, rather than preaching the goal.  Maybe pursuing innovation as an end state is the same thing as taking that big, hacking, hard-as-you-can uppercut swing when you’re at the plate.

If what we really want is more innovation, then perhaps we should advocate creativity in thought. Maybe we should make training more effective by injecting a dose of creativity.

Maybe we could inspire a new generation of creative sailors by using tools like General Military Training (GMT) as a vehicle to provide exercises to managers that encourage Sailors to think differently and hone an ability to connect dots.

Sure “Creativity GMT” is a pretty lofty goal that would likely take some time to implement. In the meantime, there’s no reason that we can’t apply some of the myriad tools easily found online to the training regimens for our respective divisions, departments and commands.

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What are you doing building spaghetti towers?!?! Get back to work!

Here are just a few of the awesome websites out there that can spark the creativity training process:

Stanford University d.school: Here you can grab a boatload of guidance on the brainstorming process, including tools for facilitation. While you’re there, check out the virtual crash course in design thinking!

Mind Tools: A site dedicated to honing ideation tools for businesses, there are tons of exercises here that you could use to spark a great session within your work group.

Marshmallow Challenge: Here’s a specific exercise that you can equip yourself for in the grocery aisle, aimed at bringing teams together.

Creative Confidence: A book by Tom and David Kelley of IDEO, the matching website gives a page full of tools to learn design thinking.

Creative Thinking: The Web’s repository for brainstorming books, techniques and exercises. This site could populate your training plan for a year.

And those are just the tip of the iceberg. Google is your friend when trying to find some fun exercises that can train the brain to not only think outside the box, but to rip the old one down and build a new, bigger box.

By unlocking the latent creativity within our Sailors, especially our junior Sailors who may have joined the Navy looking to be inspired, we drastically widen the innovation aperture. And, like a muscle, exercising that creativity will only strengthen it, leading to some great things.

Maybe doing that d.school crash course on reimagining the gift giving experience will be all the inspiration needed for a Sailor to start believing in their own creative abilities and looking for ways to make things better. Then, the next time that Sailor sees a problem, rather than becoming frustrated, they’ll craft a creative solution and make the Navy better.

Make no mistake: The Navy is 100% a People Business and those people are our greatest asset. By empowering our people to be intellectually curious, we might spur even more participation in so many of the great groups that are trying to grow the creative culture within the Navy, like CRIC[x], TANG, DEF[x], CIMSEC and, of course, The Athena Project.

One of the goals of Athena has always been to inspire a cadre of young officers and junior Sailors to think differently, relentlessly question the status quo and not be afraid to do something about it.

Let’s get creative and keep growing the wave!

 

Dave Nobles is the Combat Systems Officer onboard the Ballistic Missile Defense Guided Missile Destroyer, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is also a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

Interested in presenting an idea at the next Waterfront Athena Event, May 30th at Societe Brewing Company in Clairemont Mesa? Message us on Facebook or Twitter @AthenaNavy. Do you hate social media? Send us an e-mail instead!: ATHENA@ddg65.navy.mil.

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Societe Brewing: Home base for Waterfront Athena Five!

 

 

The Launches Must Go On: Thinking Outside the Box and using AEGIS Assets to Support Space Launches.

By: LT William Hughes

ImageSometimes, solutions to problems come in the places you don’t expect, and it might not be in a field you are even involved in. Take me, for example: I’m a straight stick Surface Warfare Officer, but ask anyone on the BENFOLD I work with and they’ll tell you I’m the biggest space geek ever. I’m always reading some article or another about a new rocket design or a planned mission to some asteroid or moon. With that in mind, I also apply my SWO perspective to what I read about current space programs. I’m also constantly thinking about how we can make things better.

Space is still the final frontier, and we’re still sending rockets up to support manned and unmanned missions. The United States Air Force works with NASA to provide launch facilities for American space missions: Cape Canaveral in Florida, Wallops Island in Virginia, and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California are all locations that have seen rockets slip the surly bonds of Earth. Whether said rockets are bound for a low Earth, geosynchronous, or polar orbits, or headed off even to the Moon or beyond to the outer planets and deep space, they all launch from the same pads and use similar infrastructures.

At each facility, powerful radars track every launch to ensure that supersonic rockets do not stray from their intended tracks. In addition to instrument packages that beam telemetry data back to mission control, Notices to Airman and Notices to Mariners (NOTAMs and NTMs) to warn people away from potential debris fields, and high tech cameras to follow the rockets on their downrange, technology exists to get the payload to orbit and get it there safely.

In March of 2014, a fire at a radar facility servicing Cape Canaveral caused enough damage to delay the launches of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V and a Falcon 9 built by SpaceX. ULA’s rocket was slated to carry a classified payload for the National Reconnaissance Office, SpaceX’s was supposed to deliver several thousand pounds of supplies to the International Space Station. Both launches were delayed because a AN/MPS-39 radar was out of commission due to a fire.

What’s so special about this radar? According to the Army’s White Sands Missile Range, the AN/MPS-39 is a C-Band, phased array radar. With a search volume of 60 degrees by 60 degrees, its 5 mega-watt output allows it to track a 6 inch sphere at 120km. I wonder, is there any system out there that can do the same job?

Aegis ships, such as the US Navy’s Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers and Ticonderoga Class Cruisers, are outfitted with SPY-1 radars. SPY has become the workhorse of the Navy, and with good reason: the radar is a beast and the rest of the hardware and software that comprise the Aegis Combat System are even scarier. SPY is an S-Band phased radar that can pump out 6 mega-watts. 60 degree search volume? SPY was designed to shepherd billion dollar warships through fast paced, multi-threat environments. It’s a set of fixed billboard emitters, but with the 4 separate arrays, provides 360 degree coverage from horizon to zenith. Where the AN/MPS-39 has to slew on its mount to gain the same coverage, SPY is electronically steerable and can simultaneously track while scan. Where the Air Force’s radar has a range out to 120km, SPY can see out to nearly 200km, and certain baselines can push out far beyond.

Aegis ships are more than capable to track rockets blasting off. It’s no strain on the radar resources, and having an Aegis ship on station actually gives range officials more options. In addition to the previously used methods to guarantee range safety, the ability of the SPY radar to simultaneously track the rocket and scan for other aircraft could be utilized to spot aircraft inadvertently entering the path of the rocket, and ditto for ships or boats by using the numerous surface search radars onboard. Each Aegis ship has an entire bubble of water space it can continuously monitor. The data links that would be used to pass track data back to mission control could also be used to share information between multiple ships, allowing for an even great degree of monitoring for launch activities.

Norfolk is about a day’s voyage from Cape Canaveral, and Mayport is even closer. On the West Coast, San Diego is a similarly short trip from Vandenberg. The logic is pretty simple: we can allow single point failures in radars to delay already costly launches, or we can use existing, mobile assets of equal and greater capability, already located in the same geographic region, to augment and keep launches on schedule.

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The process for solving this issue is the same as solving other problems in different fields. Keep your aperture open, pay attention to what you’re passionate about, and if some idea jumps out at you that seems a bit froggy, don’t be afraid to run with it. I’m not a genius. I don’t have some whamodyne degree in space science physics. I don’t even want to launch a rocket into orbit; I just want to track one.

 

LT Hughes is the Navigator on the guided missile destroyer, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He’s detaching soon to work in the N96 shop at OPNAV in Washington, DC. A self-proclaimed “space nerd,” LT Hughes dreams of one day making a space family and taking space walks.

Interested in ATHENA? Come to our next event, Waterfront ATHENA Five, at Societe Brewing in San Diego, California. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @AthenaNavy. Want to present an idea? Message us!