Innovation Jam Roundup

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By Dave Nobles

Wednesday’s Innovation Jam onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2) was an important and monumental moment for Naval Innovation.

The event was sponsored by a number of organizations, including Commander Pacific Fleet, SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific), the Office of Naval Research (ONR), and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The support of such senior leadership for Deckplate Innovation made the event a resounding success, demonstrated in spades through awarding not one but two Sailors $100,000 to fund their concepts through prototyping and transition.

That’s the important part. Ideas born out of frustration, perseverance, and a quest to make the Navy better have been funded. However, the significance of the Innovation Jam is beyond the funding.

During the Innovation Jam, the assembled crowd of Sailors and government civilians listened to senior uniformed leadership within the Navy, like the Commander of the Pacific Fleet, Admiral Scott Swift; The Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Readiness and Logistics, Vice Admiral Phil Cullom and the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy Mike Stevens. The three military speakers kicked off the event with a volley of support for The Athena Project, Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG), The Hatch, The Bridge, and other efforts to bring about positive change.  Each message resonated with the entrepreneurial and intraprenurial philosophies.

The voices of those senior leaders, combined with civilian thought leaders such as Dr. Nathan Myhrvold, the first Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of Microsoft and founder of Intellectual Ventures and Dr. Maura Sullivan, the Department of the Navy’s Chief of Strategy and Innovation, all echoed the a consistent theme:

Innovation is about taking risks.

The sponsorship, collaborative support and allocation of resources serves as a beacon of thoughtful risk taking by senior leadership in the Navy. And, funding two Sailor concepts serves as inspiration to empower all Sailors at all levels to share their own ideas and as a clear signal from the Navy’s top brass that they’re not only listening but that they’re also ready to act.

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Sailors and engineers work together to reframe their concepts during athenaTHINK at SSC Pacific

Over two days in San Diego, six Sailors who presented ideas through innovation initiatives such as The Athena Project, TANG, and The Hatch, were given the opportunity to interface with scientists and engineers at SSC Pacific and ONR to reframe and refine their concepts at an athenaTHINK event before presenting their ideas at the Innovation Jam to a panel of experts, who would decide a winner.

On the panel Dr. Myhrvold and Dr. Sullivan were joined by Dr. Stephen Russell of SSC Pacific, Mr. Scott DiLisio of OPNAV N4, Dr. Robert Smith of ONR, Mr. Arman Hovakemian of Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona Division, ETCM Gary Burghart of SSC Pacific and the Commanding Officer of the host ship, USS ESSEX, CAPT Brian Quin.

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The panelists evaluating the pitches onboard USS ESSEX (LHD 2)

The panel heard the six pitches and, after deliberation, Dr. Russell announced the results:

First Place: LTJG Rob McClenning, USS GRIDLEY (DDG 101)

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LTJG McClenning and Dr. Russell

LTJG McClenning presented his concept which he originally pitched at Athena West 3.0 called the Unified Gunnery System (UGS). The system would provide ballistic helmets equipped with augmented reality visors to the Sailors manning machine guns topside on a warship, and command and control via tablet in the pilot house. Commands given on the touch screen would provide indications to the gunners displaying orders, bearing lines and more. The system would be wired to prevent cyber attacks. The augmented reality capability of the system would mitigate potential catastrophic results of misheard orders due to the loud fire of the guns, and improve accuracy and situational awareness. LTJG McClenning received $500 for his concept, and $100K to develop the idea in collaboration with SSC Pacific.

Second Place: LT Bill Hughes, OPNAV N96

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LT Hughes and Dr. Russell

LT Hughes flew in from Washington, DC to pitch his concept, also from Athena West 3.0. The idea, CosmoGator, aims to automate celestial navigation through installed, gyro-stabilized camera mounts and small-scale atomic clocks to provide redundant Position, Navigation and Timing data to shipboard navigation and weapons systems. LT Hughes’ concept would continually update inertial navigation systems to enable continued operations in the event of GPS denial. Previously, this concept had been explored by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. LT Hughes received $300 and in a surprise move, OPNAV N4 funded his idea with $100K as well.

Third Place: GMC Kyle Zimmerman, Afloat Training Group Middle Pacific

GMC Zimmerman’s concept, originally presented at Athena West 4.0, intends to bring virtual reality to the Combat Information Center. Through the use of commercially available headsets, GMC Zimmerman proposed streaming a live optical feed of a ship’s operating environment to watchstanders to increase situational awareness and provide increased capability in responding to casualties such as Search and Rescue. GMZ Zimmerman received $200 for his idea.

Honorable Mention: LCDR Bobby Hsu, Commander, Task Force 34

LCDR Hsu pitched an idea from Theater Anti-Submarine Warfare (TASW) TANG for a consolidated information database for the litany of data required to effectively manage the TASW mission. The concept, Automated Response for Theater Information or ARTI, would leverage voice recognition software like the kind found in the Amazon Echo or Apple’s Siri, to enable watchstanders and commanders alike rapid access to critical information.

Honorable Mention: LT Clay Greunke, SSC Pacific

LT Greunke presented a concept that he began developing during his time at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and pitched at Athena West 9.0. His concept leverages virtual reality to more effectively train Landing Signals Officers (LSO) by recreating the simulator experience of an entire building in a laptop and Oculus headset. LT Greunke demonstrated his prototype for the panelists and described a vision for the LSO VR Trainer, called ‘SEA FOG,’ as the first piece of an architecture of virtual reality tools to improve training in a number of communities and services.

Honorable Mention: OSC Erik Rick, Naval Beach Group ONE

OSC Rick first presented his idea for a combined site to host all required computer based training on The Hatch, though he acknowledged that the concept had been a highly visible entry on The Hatch, as well as in previous crowd-sourcing initiatives such as Reducing Administrative Distractions (RAD), BrightWork and MilSuite. His concept is to make universal access tags for civilians, reserve and active duty personnel to enable easy tracking of completed training as well as required training. In his proposal, the host site would combine the requirements of the numerous sites currently hosting training requirements and deliver an App Store-like interface to simplify the experience for users.

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All of our presenters and panelists. America.

Not enough can be said for the courage that all of the presenters demonstrated to take the stage in an nerve-wracking setting and present their ideas. In another good news story, the panelists and the assembled crowd provided feedback to all the presenters, which will assist in the further development of all six concepts.

With the success of the Innovation Jam in the rear view mirror, the process now begins to build on the ideas that received funding. We’ll continue to provide updates of the future successes of the two funded concepts right here on the blog.

This milestone for Naval Innovation is nothing short of monumental. Many can relate to a near exhaustion with the rhetoric surrounding innovation: Agility, fast failure, big ideas, consolidating disparate efforts, getting technology to the warfighters, and certainly partnering partnerships with non-traditional players.  When actions are weighed against rhetoric, it is action that wins, taking the initiative, assuming the initiative to act and moving the needle.  And Wednesday, we saw that happen.

This inaugural Innovation Jam will not be a one-time thing. As stated by VADM Cullom in his Keynote Address the event will be coming to every fleet concentration area in the future. Here at The Athena Project, we’ll continue to push initiatives like the Innovation Jam to inspire the creative confidence to present ideas and aid in any way possible to turn concepts into reality.

And, for those wondering how they might get involved in an events like this, support your local Athena chapter, submit your ideas to The Hatch and participate in workshops like TANG! Participation in these, and any innovation initiative will make you eligible for your regional Innovation Jam!

The future looks bright indeed not only for innovation but for action.

And we’re damn proud to be a part of that.

 

Dave Nobles is a member of the Design Thinking Corps at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the founder of The Athena Project. He is also a Navy Reservist with the Office of Naval Research.

 

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Big Ideas Live In Unlikely Places – 5 Tips For Cross-Pollination

By: Dave NoblesBee-Insect-Robots-For-Cross-Pollination-14

In 1913, the Ford Motor Company introduced a revolutionary innovation that changed the shape of the automotive industry forever – the moving assembly belt. The innovation helped Ford produce more of it’s Model T, which was sweeping the nation at the time, transforming the automobile from a novel curiosity to an accessible tool that would change the world.

While the great innovator and businessman Henry Ford is credited with this innovation, the true source of this great innovation was from an entirely different domain – the meat packing industry.

An early assembly line at Ford, courtesy ford.com

An early assembly line at Ford, courtesy ford.com

Ford, and more appropriately Ford’s brilliant team of engineers that did the majority of the design work for the auto manufacturer’s Detroit plant, looked to slaughterhouse practices used in Chicago in the late 19th Century for inspiration in an industry that had little more to do with meat than driving it to the market. Despite that fact, Ford’s team had the wisdom to keep their minds open to finding ideas in unlikely places. The team’s open-mindedness led to revolutionary changes that have impacted the lives of everyone on the planet to this day.

That’s the power of cross-pollination.

Cross-pollination is the discovery of new ideas and unique solutions to challenges through inspiration from unlikely sources. That source could be anything from exploring a new hobby that inspires a change in your frame of reference to the application of a new or interesting product to a problem you are facing. Or you could simply consider a diverse viewpoint from someone who thinks a little different than you.

Kelley's book is a great resource for building innovative teams and solving tough challenges.

Kelley’s book is a great resource for building innovative teams and solving tough challenges.

Many books, blogs and articles have discussed the benefits of cross pollination and recombinant innovation. Most notably, in the 10 Faces Of Innovation, Tom Kelley says that cross-pollinators (one of the titular 10 faces) have an uncanny ability to stir up new and interesting ideas by looking broader, into unexpected worlds that may not even seem relevant to the problem you may be facing. While that may sounds like one would need a particular set of skills, a la Liam Neeson in Taken, but truthfully anyone can be a cross-pollinator.

I have a very particular set of skills. I will find you, and I will innovate.

I have a very particular set of skills. I will find you, and I will innovate.

Case studies on cross pollination and recombinant innovation are everywhere – In the video rental industry, Redbox gained a competitive advantage through harvesting inspiration from vending machines and their closest competitor, Netflix, leveraged inspiration from the Postal Service after CEO Reed Hastings was frustrated by paying a $40 late fee to a traditional video rental provider.

In the Navy, look no further than the Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG) team, who hosted a design thinking event in San Diego recently that Tom Baker talked about on this blog. An idea emerged from an early event that the team hosted to replace the $128,000 joystick submariners use to control periscopes with an intuitive (and cheap) $28 Xbox controller. That concept has made its way onto new Virginia Class submarines and even earned an excellent hashtag at a Fast Company conference in San Francisco last year – #SuperMarioSubmarine.

We’ve also had many examples of cross-pollination in some of our past Athena pitches. The Environmental Acoustic Recognition System (EARS), Rob McClenning’s winning idea from Athena Two, was an conceived by looking at Army technologies; and Bill Hughes’ celestial navigation system proposal CosmoGator was devised after downloading a Star Finder app for iPhone – just to name a few.

LT Bill Huges pitching CosmoGator at Athena 3. He started the pitch by holding his iPhone in the air and asking "if I can automate celestial navigation on this, why not on my ship?"

LT Bill Huges pitching CosmoGator at Athena 3. He started the pitch by holding his iPhone in the air and asking “if I can automate celestial navigation on this, why not on my ship?”

While cross-pollination is a great skill that can yield some great ideas, some of us may not know where to start. There are actually loads of ways that you can bring the benefits of cross-pollination and recombinant innovation into your daily routine. Here are some ways that you can become a cross-pollinator at your job:

Be Engaged – A critical prerequisite to cross-pollination is starting with the right mindset. To truly remove your internal governor and enable the benefits of cross-pollination into your routine full throttle, you have to be engaged and observant. If you’re not engaged in your current surroundings, and observing the small nuances in the way things work, then you may miss an opportunity to affect positive change.

Spark Your Intellectual Curiosity – A genuine desire to learn about new things would be another prerequisite. If you don’t have an inherent curiosity to learn new things, then the rest of the tips below, and cross-pollination in general, may not make sense or even appeal to you. To be able to take new concepts onboard and apply them when the time is right, then your desire to learn must be genuine.

Use Metaphors – Allowing different perspectives, or describing things in a different way can enable viewing a problem from a different angle, which could bring with it some unlikely and powerful solutions. In the past few months on design thinking projects that I’ve worked here at Johns Hopkins APL, I’ve likened technical leadership paths to Dungeons and Dragons and personnel evaluations to the popular Madden series of sports video games. While those ideas certainly were not the answer, they sparked a discussion and eventual solutions that the group may not have considered using traditional descriptors. Try it in your everyday ideation – you may be surprised by what you and your team come up with!

Yoda says use metaphors

Yoda says use metaphors

Stretch Your Aperture – Being open to new experiences and schools of thought is key. An easy way to achieve a wider perspective is by simply using some of the social media tools widely available right now. Twitter is great because you can customize your own feed. Start by following some different accounts – adding a few artists, marine biologists, or toy manufacturers to your list might cause something unexpected to pop onto your feed as you’re scrolling and may ignite an a-ha! moment for you. Taking that a bold step further, try joining an interest group that you know nothing about. Sign up for a class – from improv to crocheting to coding – learning a new skill will introduce you to new perspectives as well as new people. And if all else fails, talk to a stranger while you’re waiting in line at Starbucks. You never know what you might learn.

Ideate And Share – While your big idea is in its formative stages, share it out early. Pull together a diverse group and capitalize on the diversity of thought it provides. The military is renowned for having members from all over the country and even the world working side by side. With every different individual background comes a different and fresh perspective that could propel the development of a solution that you would have never thought of on your own.

In our daily jobs, we can all have tendencies to keep our heads down and operate only within our bubbles to solve everyday challenges. There certainly are problems that we can face and solve by only seeking inspiration within our immediate surroundings. In fact, this is an appropriate method for specific problems that may only have a few specialized solutions. However, if we rely solely upon our personal work silos for inspiration, we could find ourselves solving problems that don’t need to be solved.

So, how might you harness the power of inspiration from unlikely sources? What challenge might you solve by looking in unexpected places? What new idea might you cook up by cross-pollinating from an unrelated field?

If you try it, you might be surprised what you find.

 

Dave Nobles is a member of the Design Thinking Corps at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory and the founder of The Athena Project.

In the San Diego or Norfolk areas? Well, join us for Athena 8 in San Diego on August 28th and Athena East 2.0 in Norfolk in October! Have an idea you want to present? Message us!

Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail athenanavy@gmail.com!

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!

 

 

Getting Back To It!

By: LT Dave Nobles

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It’s been a cool month since our last event and The Athena Project is back!  During our time away, there’s been quite a lot of traction on several of our projects, both from the last event and our previous shindigs. Let’s take a quick moment to bring everyone up to speed by highlighting the progress on a few of the projects:

The Admiral Sims Winners! PartnerShips!

PartnerShips: The Admiral Sims Award-winning idea from Waterfront Athena 4 is well underway. Amidst a flurry of interest, we’ve had loads of innovators sign up for this networking program, designed to connect creative and industrious Sailors with scientists and engineers at various DoD and industry firms. The prototype Web site is almost off the ground and the PartnerShips team has been working diligently to pair up the folks who’ve already signed up. Once our first participants receive their introductory e-mails, the flood gates will open up for tours, updates and networking opportunities that will surely pave the way to the next batch of great ideas to make our Fleet better! Registration is still open and ongoing! If you’re interested in participating, either as a Sailor or as a Scientist, e-mail the team at navypartnerships@gmail.com.

BENFOLD University CLEP Courses:  Leveraging the strength of an awesome program and the supercharged intelligence of some enterprising Sailors, this idea from Waterfront Athena 3 is getting some serious legs. BENFOLD University is a program aboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) that gives Sailors a chance to teach their shipmates about any topic that they’re interested in – because learning is cool. Since it’s inception, there have been classes on photography, Spanish, welding, writing and Japanese, but a few enterprising Sailors have put together a curriculum to teach Algebra and Calculus to prepare their fellow surface warriors to take CLEP courses for college credit. The finely-tuned course will begin aboard the ship in April.

CosmoLogo

CosmoGator: The second-place finisher at Waterfront Athena 3, CosmoGator is a candidate for funding from the Office of Naval Research in the new batch of programs from the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.  The CosmoGator team is knee-deep in preparation for upcoming cavalcade of briefings to a series of ONR Subject Matter Experts, a cadre of Flag Officers and ultimately the CNO himself at the end of April all in an effort to bring automated celestial navigation to reality.  For newcomers to this blog or The Athena Project, CosmoGator will provide precision fix data to ships’ Inertial Navigation Systems by taking a snapshot of astronomical bodies in the sky and using a database of starts to accurately turn multiple lines of position into fixes that can enable ships to continue missions in the event of a GPS outage. The team has been working with NASA, SPAWAR and the Naval Observatory to transform vision into action.

Software Systems Integration: Another project from Waterfront Athena 4 was a vision to integrate typical Sailor functions like maintenance, replacement part ordering and training into one intuitive system on a mobile device. This type of idea has been kicked around various circles for some time, and was a running theme of a few projects at the last event. Well, our friends at Lockheed Martin share the vision for the functional alignment and integration of these systems and have reached out to the Athena team to begin work toward a solution to the frustrating problems plaguing Sailors on the deckplates. A meeting is scheduled next month to discuss the way forward.

ODIN: The winning idea from Waterfront Athena 3 is alive and well. The sharp Fire Controlmen who presented the idea and the geniuses at SPAWAR have been volleying optical information back and forth over the last quarter and are nearing completion of a prototype database and algorithm to leverage the data from EO devices for surface ship recognition and classification. The team is planning another session to synthesize the data and push the project along later this month.

Tankless Water Heaters: This idea from Waterfront Athena 4 caught the immediate attention of representatives from iENCON that were in attendance. Currently, water is heated onboard ships within two 430-gallon tanks, which is a huge drain on energy usage. In this project’s vision, water would be heated on-demand, by way of heating mechanisms within the piping, before the water gets to the end user. The first stage in getting a project like this running is measurement of actual energy consumption, and the team has acquired Fluke meters with a data logger from SPAWAR to gain the data necessary to move toward the development of the new heaters. The team plans to meter the two electronic heaters for the tanks and the two hot water pumps to conduct a life cycle analysis to determine the simple payback. Building on the data already obtained from other DDGs, the team has determined that the cost to operate the current heaters is upwards of $150K and that the new system will save the Navy over $100K per ship, per year.

And that’s just a few of the many ideas that are in various stages of development right now. Other popular ideas are gaining headway as well, like the employment of MILES technology for Navy training and the outfitting of crew-served weapons gunners with Heads-Up Displays. The cool part about all of that, is that despite the fact that these ideas didn’t win the Sims Award at their events, the driven Sailors that pitched them are still committed to making them happen. Kind of like how a singer doesn’t have to win American Idol to grab a record deal, if an idea from a Waterfront Athena Event is good enough and it’s champion is passionate enough, the Navy can still get better.

The future is going to hold some pretty cool stuff for Athena, too: From Design Thinking workshops to field trips and join-ups to focused ideation efforts called Athena Spears, The Athena Project will be growing beyond the quarterly waterfront sessions into a something much bigger, all while staying true to the vision of creating a cadre of creative thinkers focused on making a stronger Fleet for tomorrow.

More to follow on the Future of The Athena Project soon… Stay tuned!

LT Dave Nobles is a Surface Warfare Officer assigned as Combat Systems Officer aboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is also a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell.

Like us on Facebook and follow @AthenaNavy on Twitter! Interested in creating an Athena Project of your own? Message us!

Waterfront Athena Roundup

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Last Thursday afternoon at Ballast Point Brewing’s Little Italy location, creative minds from across the Navy and Industry got together to share some big ideas.

This was our fourth Waterfront Athena Event and we had our best turnout yet! There were about 75 innovators in attendance in the San Diego sun, braving the elements (and the occasional noise of planes passing overhead) to hear nine presentations aimed at making the Navy better. For a quick rundown of how Athena works, check here.

From the Navy side, 20 commands were represented, including the Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell, a cadre of young Sailors and junior officers across designators and communities that are eager to create a new culture within the Navy. With tremendous support from San Diego’s Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC), many other young officers took in the event, geared to spread the culture of creativity across the fleet.

Beyond the Navy complement at Waterfront Athena, civilians from industry, academia and government joined in the action. In attendance, we had our old friends from the University of Southern California Institute of Creative Technologies, SPAWAR and Harris Corporation, but also new friends from Lockheed Martin, CUBIC Corporation, Navy Undersea Warfare Center,iENCON, NASA, GovAlert and more. It truly was an amazing network of thinkers, doers, dreamers and makers and made for our best event ever.

Some of the Waterfront Athena crowd, escaping the sun and listening to the pitches.

Some of the Waterfront Athena crowd, escaping the sun and listening to the pitches.

In addition to the nine great ideas that our Athenians presented, the audience was treated to a halftime display of 3D printing and advancements in the development of LT Bill Hughes’ project from the last Waterfront Athena, CosmoGator, from Matt Reyes of the NASA Ames Research Center. Reyes showcased low cost solutions using additive manufacturing. And, just to show how quick and easy the system truly is, Reyes printed a iPhone 4 case on site.

Matt Reyes showcasing a possible new direction for CosmoGator.

Matt Reyes showcasing a possible new direction for CosmoGator.

But enough of who was there, let’s get down to the ideas:

Idea 1: Veterans Emloyment Transition Software – FCC(SW) Christopher Roberts

While attending transition courses in preparation for the plunge into Corporate America, FCC Roberts became frustrated with the current catalog of tools that veterans could use to find the right job and decided to take matters into his own hands.  He pitched a program, the Veterans Employment Transition Software (VETS) wherein the system is stood on its head: Instead of veterans finding jobs, the jobs find the veterans. In his vision, a veteran would input personal information and experience, and the VETS program, with participation from potential employers, would more efficiently pair up jobs with the seeker. Metrics like primary duties, collateral duties, education, sea/shore commands and performance evaluations would lend to smarter placement. To FCC Roberts, there’s no reason why our experienced military servicemembers should be confined to a job that didn’t suit them and allow them to use their unique talents to flourish.

Idea 2: Re-Usable Packaging – LTJG Isaac Wang

LTJG Wang, a three-time Athena presenter, partnered with entrepreneurs in the San Diego area to propose a smarter way to store critical parts and devices, prevent dangerous electro-static discharge and save money using new storage containers and reverse logistics. He proposed using demonstrated products and processes that have already saved many leading-edge businesses in today’s Fleet.

Idea 3: Tankless Water Heaters – ENS Tomas Baker

Our Third Place finisher and Oregon State University graduate proposed a smarter way to heat the water that ships use. As currently designed, Navy ships are highly inefficient in the way they heat and distribute water throughout a ship. Almost 1,000 gallons of water are constantly heated and pumped through thousands of feet of piping waiting to be used, whether the crew is sleeping at home or washing dishes at sea. Baker proposed utilizing commercially-available “Flash Hot Water Heaters” to instantly heat water without the need for a water tank. These systems eliminate intrusive piping and save boatloads of energy, money, and maintenance man-hours. Engineers from iENCON immediately connected with Baker’s concept and began working right then and there on a plan for testing across the waterfront.

Idea 4: 3D Printing used for Material Validations – CMDCM(SW) Sean Snyder

A game-day entry, CMDCM Snyder proposed using visual recognition software resident on mobile devices to revolutionize equipment validations and parts replacements for shipboard systems. CMC Snyder considered naval application of this technology after watching his kids use image recognition applications. With more and more digital natives joining the Fleet, he sees fertile ground for Sailors to use their cameras to take a picture of a broken piece of gear, filter it through a local database to recognize the system and part, then forwarding the image to a shore-based or local site where the faulty part could be printed using additive manufacturing. In his vision, pictures of equipment could be catalogued and used to help ensure that maintenance men get the right part every time.

Idea 5: MILES technology for Navy Training – ETC(SW) Michael Lewisson

The runner up for the Admiral Sims Award, ETC Lewisson proposed the use of the Army’s Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System (MILES) for shipboard training. Currently, anti-terrorism/force protection drills are conducted using rubber weapons and generally have Sailors yelling “bang, bang!” at each other to simulate an engagement. ETC joked that this system was awesome on the playground, but doesn’t have a place onboard a warship. By using MILES, which is a super-whamadyne laser tag system, trainers and trainees would be able to assess multiple metrics, including shot count, accuracy and decision-making delay to improve overall training. Further, Lewisson said that the system would lend itself well to integration across training teams, such as medical, damage control and combat systems. The MILES system is already a program of record and as such, would only be marginally difficult to transition to the surface fleet, Lewisson said. Representatives from the CUBIC Corporation in attendance agreed with Lewisson’s vision and are already working to find a way to incorporate the system for shipboard use.

FCC Roberts pitching his VETS idea

FCC Roberts pitching his VETS idea

Idea 6: Virtual Reality for CIC Watchstanders – GMC(SW) Kyle Zimmerman

An idea from a recent “Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop” at SPAWAR (you can read all about it in our summary here) GMC Zimmerman, in concert with FCC(SW) Barry Adams and SPAWAR Scientists dreamed up a system whereby watchstanders in a ship’s Combat Information Center (CIC) could make use of existing virtual reality technology and the ship’s optical sensors to assist in building a recognized maritime picture of all other surface ships in a warship’s vicinity. Todd Richmond of USC’s Institute of Creative Technologies and Josh Kvavle of SPAWAR joined forces with GMC Zimmerman during his pitch, lending the power of the brilliant minds at their organizations to Zimmerman’s lofty vision.

Idea 7: Software Systems Integration – CTT2(SW) Anna Nothnagel

Formerly of the aviation community, the newly minted Cryptologic Technician – Technical pitched the need to adopt innovations from the aviation side of the house to improve software integration as it related to maintenance, replacement part ordering, administration, training and more. CTT2 Nothnagel proposed one streamlined system on a mobile device to change the way maintenance is done in the Navy. Maintenance workers would have their lives simplified and it would allow for optimized tracking of maintenance hours and decrease the need for frivolous spot checks, Nothnagel said. The project caught the eye of CRICster LT Rollie Wicks who has been working a similar project on the East Coast for his community. The two connected and are working to find a way forward for Nothnagel’s idea.

Idea 8: Logic Training for Sailors – ET2(SW) Erika Johnson

In her pitch, ET2 Johnson proposed teaching courses on logic to enhance Sailor decision making.  Johnson, a two-time Athena presenter, proposed testing the effect of her concept on a single surface ship – measuring the improvement in Sailors’ logic skills prior to and following a series of instructional sessions on the discipline. If successful, Johnson would pursue earlier implementation of the courses, in basic training for enlisted Sailors and officers alike. Teaching logic to Sailors would not only assist them in tactical and operational-level decision making, but also off-duty decision making, potentially reducing the number of destructive decisions that can sometimes plague junior Sailors.

Idea 9: PartnerShips – LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell and LT Dave Nobles

Last but not least, the Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage goes to regular contributors to this blog and Waterfront Athena Events, LTJG O’Donnell and LT Nobles. The pair proposed starting a website-based system that would serve to connect Sailors and Scientists to build a foundation of knowledge between the two sides, bridging knowledge gaps and fostering new networks and alliances. After a hugely successful “Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop” between SPAWAR and USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) wherein Sailors and Scientists connected through learning, design thinking and ideation.

The Admiral Sims Winners! PartnerShips!

The Admiral Sims Winners! PartnerShips!

With such a strong event, the two officers developed a way to lay a base-coat of continuous learning between the two sides, and proposed that the growth of familiarity could potentially lead to incredible ideas and increased job satisfaction. On the proposed website, a Sailor or Scientist would fill out a survey with questions on experience level, education and interests, and the PartnerShips team would link up users for a professional “pen pal-like” relationship. Over the course of the PartnerShip, the two parties would host monthly tours, exchange weekly e-mails and eventually attend join-ups to strengthen ties, all while feeding their experiences back to the PartnerShips homepage. The two did not waste any time waiting for the site to be built, though. They had signup sheets for Sailors and Scientists that were interested in the program to fill out on site. In the initial salvo, over 20 innovators signed up!

At The Athena Project we’re constantly humbled by the support that our initiative has received both from the fleet and from industry. It’s amazing to think that what started as an unfortunately-named experiment called WikiWardroom has blossomed into a stage for Sailors to have their voices heard by tremendous companies and makers from across the private sector and academia. Thank you to everyone who participated in this event and we can’t wait to see you guys at our next one!

If you can’t make it out to San Diego, then break down some doors and start an Athena Project of your own! We’re more than happy to help any organization that wants to use the Athena construct as a means to slingshot ideas into the stratosphere!

Stay tuned – We aren’t stopping anytime soon and we’ve got some big plans coming for Athena to help further build the growing wave of creativity in the Navy!

Connect with The Athena Project on Facebook: www.facebook.com/athenanavy or follow us on Twitter: @AthenaNavy. Interested in starting a movement of your own? Message us, or e-mail ATHENA@ddg65.navy.mil!

Project Pulse: CosmoGator

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LT William Hughes started his Athena pitch by taking the iPhone out of his pocket.

“If I can have an app on this thing that can recognize stars in the night sky,” Hughes, the Navigator onboard the guided missile destroyer BENFOLD began, “Then why can’t I have the same on my ship?”

The crowd at Modern Times brewery for last October’s Waterfront Athena Event agreed, voting LT Hughes’ CosmoGator project second overall.

In his pitch, Hughes argued that, due to the proliferation of Global Positioning System (GPS) jamming technology and the development of anti-satellite weapons, there is a good chance that any future conflicts will develop in a GPS denied environment. And with technological capabilities developing at an exponential rate the Navy, with its plethora of high tech platforms and weapons that depend on GPS, must guarantee the ability to execute missions without it. Hughes found that celestial navigation could be the answer – And it’s been around for hundreds of years.

Traditional celestial navigation involves sight planning, shooting lines of position, followed by sight reductions. This process has been improved upon with the advent of computers and a program called STELLA (System to Estimate Latitude and Longitude Astronomically), however, it still requires a sailor to take a sextant and attempt to derive lines of position from a small number a stars against a backdrop of millions, often under less than ideal sea states and weather conditions.

Although surface combatants have Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) to serve as back-ups to GPS, the accuracy of those systems cannot be guaranteed for extended periods of time. CosmoGator is an automated celestial navigation system that will interface with existing ship systems to maintain safety of navigation and provide position inputs to ship subsystems.

CosmoGator is a multi-part system comprised of a gyro-stabilized and actuated camera and a software tie in to existing navigation computers.  Ephemeral data from existing systems, such as STELLA, would be used to plan sights and to slew the camera to the exact point in the sky.  The automated camera would be able to slew to exactly where planned stars are in the sky, take steady, accurate measurements beyond the tenth degree that the standard marine sextant can give.  This LOP data would then be fed back into the navigation computers and converted to a lattitude and longitude for use by various ship systems.,  and populated out to ship systems.  Position data from CosmoGator would be used as an input into to reset INS, align antennas for Satellite Communications and programmed into combat systems that require precise position inputs.

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LT Hughes presents CosmoGator at the Waterfront Athena on 25 October 2013.

While the concept is quite simple, there are many dots that require connecting.

Take a minute to imagine this scenario: USS WARSHIP is steaming towards a launch point for a strike mission against country Orange. Orange uses its anti-satellite capabilities and local GPS jamming equipment to effectively black out the figure of merit 1 navigation data WARSHIP is used to receiving. Upon the loss of GPS, WARSHIP’s navigation systems automatically kick over to the INS, which is guaranteed to be accurate for up to 48 hours, but WARSHIP is still 3 days from station. That night, the ship’s automated celestial navigation system, over the course of just a few minutes, takes several accurate lines of position from the stars and planets and determines the ship’s position with an error of ≤ 25 meters.

That fix, with the same accuracy of GPS, is simultaneously fed to both the navigation display on the bridge and in Combat information Center, but also back into INS to re-start the 48 hour accuracy countdown. This process would repeat every single night until GPS was restored. Upon arrival at the launch point, the ship can use INS to input the Tomahawks’ start point and successfully execute its mission.

CosmoLogo

Potential CosmoGator logo.

CosmoGator placed second overall at the October 2013 Waterfront Athena.  In the weeks and months that have followed, the project hasn’t died.  CosmoGator was subsequently picked up by the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (CRIC) as a project for their next round of ideas, opening up avenues with the Office of Naval Research and the Navy Warfare Development Command.

In January, at SPAWAR’s “Learn the Warfighters’ Needs” workshops in Point Loma, CosmoGator gained traction with several engineers and physicists who are working to answer the question of precision navigation and timing (PNT) in a GPS denied environment.

The Department of Defense had previously shelved a shore-based project called DayStar that aimed to accomplish many of the same objectives as CosmoGator but lacked the requisite technology. Since this technology is now readily available, it is likely that a feasible system could easily be produced and deployed on our surface combatants. Other organizations have expressed interest as well, and the CosmoGator team is working with NASA and the Naval Postgraduate School in an ongoing effort to link similar projects, gain funding, continue research and bring CosmoGator to life.

When it comes to CosmoGator’s potential, the stars really are the limit!

Waterfront Athena Roundup

By LT Dave Nobles

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We cross-posted this article a few weeks ago with our friends at CIMSEC.org. Recently, I’ve gotten quite a few questions on many of the projects presented, so I thought it would be appropriate to post this on our blog in an attempt to connect the dots of ideation across the fleet. Message Athena on Facebook or Twitter at @AthenaNavy to learn more about any of our projects!

A month ago, a group of young innovators met in a brewery in Point Loma trying to change the U.S. Navy.

We hosted our third installment of The Athena Project at Modern Times Beer on October 25th and for the first time, we opened it up to the entire waterfront. Even though the presenters were predominantly from USS Benfold, the birthplace of Athena, a few change-makers from other commands presented ideas. About 15 different commands represented in the crowd, many coming from the Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) here in San Diego. In addition to the Navy contingent, representatives from the University of Southern California (USC) Institute of Creative TechnologiesSPAWARDisruptive Thinkers, and Harris Corporation were among the more than 70 in attendance. We had a phenomenal turnout – better than we expected. It feels like just the beginning, though.

Before we get into the roundup of our last event, here’s a quick summary of how The Athena Project works. Presenters are given five minutes to pitch their projects to the crowd, who vote on each idea based on quality, actionability, and presentation. We’ve found that the short pitch time and lack of powerpoint forces each presenter to get to the heart of their idea quickly and to distill it down to the essential points. After every presentation, the floor is open for five minutes of questions and comments from the crowd. When all the projects have been presented, votes are tallied and the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage is announced.

The winning project gets to form a small functional team and receives command backing to make their idea happen over the next quarter. That, and of course bragging rights.

So, we had our friends from USC select the first name, and away we went. Here’s a summary of each of the ideas presented:

Idea 1: Psychology-Driven Division Officer Assessments – LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell, USS Benfold

The foundation for LTJG O’Donnell’s idea was trying to help junior ensigns develop their leadership skill set. She proposed working hand-in-hand with the Human Systems Integration department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, to generate a survey that could be given to an officer’s division to evaluate leadership traits. LTJG O’Donnell envisioned a breakdown similar to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to give young officers feedback and action items for strengthening traits.

Idea 2: Hydro Wave Power Generator – ET2(SW) Erika Johnson, USS Benfold

Petty Officer Johnson and her husband proposed utilizing cranks and netting in littorals to build a network of power generators that would double as a passive sonar system.  She explained the technology, then offered multiple design-types leveraging materials currently in use.

Idea 3: Peer Resource Sharing – LTJG Sarah Eggleston, Destroyer Squadron ONE

Citing a great deal of frustration in maintaining version control of current instructions and guidance, LTJG Eggleston proposed a sharepoint-like system in which naval personnel could share lessons learned, updated messages, and recent notices among other information. Feedback from the crowd suggested utilizing current channels such as Navy Knowledge Online to grow the database and function as a type of Navy Wiki.

Idea 4: Benfold University CLEP – STG2(SW) Gina Stevens, USS Benfold

Onboard USS Benfold, there is a program called Benfold University in which Sailors who have a passion and knowledge base for any topic can teach their shipmates about the subject. Since its establishment in early 2013, the program has hosted classes in writing, welding, photography, Spanish, finance, nutrition and Japanese. Petty Officer Stevens, the program’s first teacher, proposed using free resources provided by Navy College for the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) to teach Sailors the knowledge necessary to gain college credit for a course.

Idea 5: Active Sonar Defense – ENS Joshua Corpus, BDOC

A game-day addition to the presentation list, ENS Corpus proposed taking technology found in noise-cancelling headphones – reciprocal noise generation – and applying that concept to ships’ sonar to act as a defense against active prosecution. ENS Corpus defended his assertion following his presentation as engineers in the crowd questioned the technology. During a break in the action, the concept was a hot topic, bringing several innovators together to discuss the feasibility of the idea.

Idea 6: Optical Database and Information Network – FC2 Robert VanAllen, FC2 Michael Owen and FC2 Lisa Stamp, USS Benfold

The winners of the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage, this group of Petty Officers dominated the peer voting in every category with their presentation. The group proposed building an integrated database that would combine information from existing sensors to assist in identification of surface contacts. Characteristics from ships such as radar cross-section, electromagnetic emissions and heat signature would be combined with new visual-profiling software to build an electronic profile. That profile could then be compared to a database of surface ships and ranked by probability, resulting in rapid identification of long range surface targets. They also gave many examples on how the system could be developed in future iterations, including integration with seaborne drone systems and crew served weapons mounts. The pitch was well received and engineers from USC immediately pounced on the idea, offering to work with the team to develop a rapid prototype for proof of concept.

Idea 7: Electronic Division Officer Notebook – LTJG Isaac Wang, USS Benfold

Trying to solve the problem of maintaining paper records for Sailors, LTJG Wang suggested leveraging existing technology, like Neat Scanners and handwriting recognition software, to digitize the contents typically kept in Division Officer notebooks. Documents like counseling sheets, signed evaluations, history forms and the like could be scanned and kept together. Many in the crowd viewed this idea as “low hanging fruit” and claimed it would be simple to implement onboard a ship. LTJG Wang took the recommendations in stride and aims to institute his plan onboard BENFOLD.

Idea 8: Cosmogator – LT William Hughes, USS Benfold

LT Hughes, the navigator onboard Benfold, developed a concept for a system that would automate celestial navigation. He proposed that the system, consisting of optical sensors and a database of stars, could provide accurate positional data to the ship’s weapons systems in the event of a GPS outage. LT Hughes tested several mobile applications through his research and claimed that the technology to make this system a reality was well within reach. The crowd agreed, and his project finished in second place overall.

Idea 9: SCAT Tactical HUD – ENS Robert McClenning, FC1(SW) William Steele, FC2(SW) Amanda Curfew, FC2(SW) Justin Lagenor, GM3 Jacob Niessen, USS Benfold

This large group finished third in the peer voting for their proposed solution to the problem of command and control for ships’ crew-served weapons mounts. Citing difficulty in communications between the Anti-Terrorism Tactical Watch Officer (ATTWO) on the bridge and the machine guns on the weatherdecks, the team suggested utilizing augmented reality (AR) headsets for gunners and a touch screen tablet for the ATTWO to optimize the process. The team said that the headsets would be simplistic – only displaying commands such as “fire” and “ceasefire” – and would have to be hard-wired because a tactical wireless system would be easily exploitable by potential adversaries.

Idea 10: Metal Alloys for Energy – GSM2(SW) Robertson Acido, USS Benfold

The second of our game-day additions, GSM2 Acido proposed taking technology that’s being developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota to augment the power needs of surface ships. The engineers developed a new alloy that converts heat into energy. GSM2 Acido suggested using that alloy onboard ships – on anything the exhaust stacks for engines to solar-heated panels – to save fuel by allowing ships to have sufficient power without running their generators. GSM2 Acido formed a small team at the Athena event, including BDOC officers and SPAWAR engineers, to shape his pitch before presenting.

Overall, the event brought forth some tremendous ideas from the deckplates and provided some great networking opportunities, but the best part of it all: We had fun. The feedback on all the voting sheets was incredibly positive, and the support from the diverse crowd was amazing. It’s encouraging to know that there are so many people out there who want to make a difference.

We’re looking into scheduling the next waterfront Athena event for this spring, and hope that the innovation wildfire continues to spread – not only on the West Coast, but throughout the Navy. As The Athena Project continues to grow, so grows the chances that we’ll uncover the next big thing.

As Ben Franklin, among others, famously said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

Challenge accepted.

LT Dave Nobles is the weapons officer aboard USS Benfold and a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.