Project Pulse: The Rustbuster

By: LTJG Tom Baker

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BMSN Robert Dorsey explains his innovations for the next generation needle gun.

What an incredible update for one of our Waterfront ATHENA 7 innovators!

BMSN Robert Dorsey’s “Rustbuster” innovation recently caught the attention of Scientists from Commander, Naval Surface Forces SES! With CNSF granting specific funding for further research and prototypes, Susie Alderson and her team of advisers recently visited Dorsey onboard USS BENFOLD to take a look at his idea in action!

Dan Green, Director of SPAWAR’s Joint Advanced Manufacturing Region Southwest and the Secretary of the Navy’s Innovation Implementation Lead for Katalyst 21 was one of many advisers who met with Dorsey.

“This was our first DoN Katalyst-21 event and I am very pleased with the engagement so far”, says Dan. “From an Innovation lifecycle perspective, the DoN Katalyst-21 concept supports rapid prototyping and risk reduction phases that follow the generation of good ideas.  Our mission is to support the “incubation”  of Fleet Innovation by connecting sailor-generated ideas with a means to digitally or physically prototype and grow ideas into possible solutions.”

This is promising opportunity for the San Diego ATHENA community!

BMSA Dorsey led the team through his divisional spaces, explaining the issues faced with current Needle Guns and illustrating the areas where current tools onboard cannot fully tackle preservation challenges.

The needle gun is a simple pneumatic tool that uses compressed air to a piston which constantly pounds on a set of needles. Dorsey wanted to make the needle gun more versatile, creating interchangeable fittings with different types of needles to match different surfaces, while also making it a few inches smaller for those hard-to-reach spaces.

“This will save us time by just changing the fittings rather than leaving our work and getting another tool,” Dorsey said.

Dorsey also proposed changing the design of the trigger for increased grip and reduced hand fatigue. Some ideas he expressed for the interchangeable tips included a round tip for softer metals, a v-shaped tip for deep, layered rust and a chisel head for wide paint “busting.”

“I have done some research, but I have yet to find a pneumatic tool that uses the piston design with interchangeable fittings,” Dorsey said.

Pete Schmitz of Intel Corporation was fulled immersed in Dorsey’s walkthrough. Utilizing revolutionary 3-D image mapping technology on a tablet, Pete was able to photograph the difficult equipment and spaces that Dorsey highlighted. Using specialized software, the CNSF team will combine those 3-D images with Dorsey’s prototype ideas to develop several solutions for prototype.

The design team at CNSF is currently working these prototypes and intends to return their results to Mr. Dorsey in the coming weeks!

Tom Baker is the First Lieutenant onboard the Ballistic Missile Defense Guided Missile Destroyer, USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). He is a graduate of Oregon State University in Entrepreneurship.

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!

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Design Thinking! The Experience of 3M TANG

By: LTJG Tom Baker

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On the afternoon of Monday June 8th, I left the mighty BENFOLD and drove north to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, excited about a promising opportunity to collaborate, create, and solve.

It was a slow roll through the front gate – ID check sat – and after two wrong turns in an unfamiliar base, I found my way to the Miramar Officer’s Club. With slightly wrinkled slacks and polo shirt from my journey, I entered to find two brightly smiling faces at a table full of gizmos and documents. “Hi, welcome to 3M TANG!”.

I was christened with my colorful badge, complete with a “Mavericks” team button. Thoughts filled my head like, ‘what is this thing for!?’ and ‘What have I gotten myself into?’

Oh was I in for a surprise.

I was gestured to the right into a large room and what fell before my eyes was what an innovator at heart may compare to the large candy room that Willy Wonka reveals to the children during their factory tour. And so my voyage into wonderful world of TANG began.

This is 3M TANG – in detail: The Maintenance, Material, and Management (3M) Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation. From June 8th-11th, 30 hand-selected warfighters were chosen to help create ideas, concepts, and solutions for future 3M systems, displays, hardware, policy, and procedures. This three-day workshop that I was attending – the culmination of months of research and insight generation – was designed to make tangible improvement to what the Navy largely affirms to be an outdated and broken maintenance system.

The first TANG event was held in 2011 to address challenges associated with Submarine displays. ADM Richardson, then the Commander of Submarine Forces, called for positive change and away the first TANG went – in San Diego – to prototype some concepts. The teams, through iteration, went from foamcore prototypes at the event to working models within a handful of months, finally transitioning concepts onto Submarines through the APB process. Since that first event, the team has accomplished several TANGs tackling a variety of challenges – Executive TANG, Australian/US TANG and Surface ASW TANG just to name a few.

3M TANG - the most recent event for the team - and plenty more to come!

3M TANG – the most recent event for the team – and plenty more to come!

TANG has been relentlessly successful because their creative structures accomplish two otherwise rare practices. One, they place stakeholders, technology experts, and warfighters in one room. Normally, the creator & stakeholder are geographically separated from the sailor, so valuable lines of communication and feedback are delayed. Secondly, TANG manages to get everyone rowing in a unified direction! Objectives are clarified quickly, and the team keeps each other in check.

Groups of people talking closely, jotting down notes on large white posters, laughing, or gathered around booths holding, wearing, and interacting with some of the coolest tech I’ve ever seen. My nervousness dissipated as I saw familiar faces in the room ~ a family of supporters and creators that have held The Athena Project afloat since its earliest inception, joined together with the TANG team was incredibly welcoming and put me into a state of creative euphoria.

The first event – the Tech Expo – showcased some of the most respected companies standing side-by-side with organizations that I’ve never heard of – their ideas all equally-incredible. I spent the rest of day one playing with technology and interacting with the creators who I realize are wholly devoted to giving our Sailors their best.

The tech expo is geared toward “unlocking the realm of the possible” to inform the brainstorming efforts of the teams from around the fleet. Over the next three days, our teams would engage in the process of Design Thinking to brainstorm, prototype, and present our creations.

I hardly thought that the second day could be better than the first, but I was wrong. The TANG team, partnered with award-winning innovators at IDEO, identified 14 solutions to known 3M issues that emerged throughout the course of some exhaustive empathetic research around our fleet. So, one of the first primers we did was to provide feedback on those concepts. Through “I wish” and “I like” statements, along with questions and concerns, the room collectively penned sticky notes to accompany these concepts, an exercise designed to kick-start the brainstorming process.

After we finished the concept card exercise, I came to find out that the “Mavericks” button I’m wearing is a team name. And, after a rousing and supportive speech by the Commander of Naval Surface Forces, Vice Admiral Rowden, the room is fired up to create!

Design thinking chart

We kick off the Design Thinking Process with some brainstorming. The goals are to generate a lot of ideas in a little time, get different perspectives, and build some excitement! Each group member starts slapping sticky notes to these ideas with every thought under the sun. I noticed a little poster next to our white space.

THE 7 RULES OF EFFECTIVE BRAINSTORMING

  1. Defer judgement
  2. Encourage wild ideas
  3. Build on the ideas of others
  4. Stay focused on the topic
  5. One conversation at a time
  6. Be visual
  7. Go for quantity

Some of the notes are features: “WIFI”, “Bluetooth”, “PERSONAL Profiles!”. Other stickies are more conceptual, or the “how” behind other stickies: “Hire coders”, “Partner with existing tablet creators”. Some of our mates are categorizing and connecting ideas as we go along. Everything is so fluid. During this process, I start learning how each of my new friends thinks. Those stickies and the conversations about them start to reveal personalities, and we fall naturally into our team roles.

Our mission, together, was to combine a couple of really interesting ideas that the team had collectively brainstormed and voted on. The PMS Recipe Card is a platform and ship specific set of digital maintenance instructions. PMS is planned similar to meal planning as it captures what tools, qualifications, hazardous materials, and training are necessary to carry out the plan. Our other idea, the Workcenter 3M Tablet, provides the ability to take these PMS Recipe cards anywhere in the ship, and even write and submit a job or feedback report.

Once we had the direction for our new concept, we dive into the room’s ‘arts and crafts’ section to get our ideas into the physical space. There were tables filled with large white papers, foamcore, glue guns and a table full of a crazy conglomerate of supplies (pipe cleaners, whiteboard markers, full-size candy bars… you get the idea).

Team Mavericks - having fun with Top Gun puns since 2015.

Team Mavericks – having fun with Top Gun puns since 2015.

Our team is now deep into prototyping. There is no better way to communicate a concept to our team with minimal investment. We can tear it apart, tweak it, or add on to it as soon as we see the need. I see some more guidance on the wall for this step in the process. Luckily I had some notes from a quick brainstorming and prototyping presentation by Dave Blakely from mach49 to remember the details:

PROTOTYPING

  1. Building to think. Prototypes are tools used both to validate ideas and to help us generate them. Prototypes force us to think about how someone would interact with our concept.
  2. Rough & rapid. Prototypes are exploratory, not precious. They should be built as quickly and cheaply as possible.
  3. Answering questions. It’s essential to know what question a prototype is being used to answer: whether it’s around desirability, usefulness, usability, viability, or feasibility.
The prototyping toolbox.

The prototyping toolbox.

I drag a piece of foamcore the size of a picnic table over to our corner of the room. My friends are at the table of supplies, gathering markers, scissors, more stickies (because we understand the need at this point), and even manage to return with a handful of chocolate chip cookies. We are really clicking at this point. We cut out a foam-core tablet larger than the bed of a full-size pickup truck. There are so many concepts to visualize that we start drawing out “screen shots” on large pieces of white paper. With some help from the TANG facilitators, we realize we can rotate these white papers through our tablet frame to visualize to an audience.

Some of us want to add more detail, others realize the tight timeline we are on and move quickly to the next screen. Again, our personalities revealed, roles refined. We met each other 40 minutes ago and operate like a well-oiled machine.

Eventually, we would present our prototypes and concepts to the entire TANG audience and receive the invaluable live feedback through “I like” and “I wish” statements, questions, and concerns. Earlier in the writing I spoke about the three teams of warfighters. Well, there’s a fourth team of Stakeholders – the technology holder, sponsoring companies and those who want to and CAN create positive change – who will be giving feedback on our ideas and also sharing their own ideas to positively impact the future of 3M in the fleet. Our prototyping and presentation processes start to reveal who they are.

Another half hour later, and the room comes alive in theatrics as we rehearse our presentation. We feel confident about our prototype. It’s time to receive feedback and refine! At this point I recall my mind being expanded yet exhausted. I was fulfilled by the roller coaster of turning a collection of several hundred thoughts into something I could hold in my hand, complete with a rehearsed delivery by a cohesive team. And the most exciting part of this design thinking process, was that all of this preparation is to create something intentionally non-permanent – ready for alteration, destruction, further creation, all by design. It’s easy to iterate on something that’s a rough prototype – much easier than when we’ve already dumped millions of dollars into a solution BEFORE gaining the warfighter feedback. The tendency is to NOT change things then. I walked away from the event excited about the fluidity and fragility of our idea’s future.

When we finished our sharing session, with all the teams presenting their ideas to the crowd, the room was filled with an incredible energy. It was a good thing, too: Because we were about to do the whole process one more time!

I took with me the incredible lessons in a new approach to problem-solving. It brought me back to my undergraduate days when I had read about these processes occurring at IDEO and other forward-leaners. Being immersed in Design Thinking revitalized my sense of confidence in our ability to solve large and small scale challenges. I am passionately drawn to thinking about our underlying purpose at The Athena Project. This experience was a “how” that I believe our incredibly talented Sailors can and should be encouraged to utilize when approaching an increasingly dynamic set of challenges and future threats.

We can set our focus primarily toward innovations, solutions, and products, and I believe we will enjoy a few breakthroughs. OR, we can set our focus toward changing the way we think and approach our environment, and I believe we will enjoy both a culture of dynamic problem-solvers, AND a far greater byproduct of innovations, solutions, and products!

LTJG Tom Baker is the First Lieutenant and Public Affairs Officer onboard USS BENFOLD and the San Diego lead for The Athena Project. He’s a proud graduate of Oregon State University, earning his degree in Entrepreneurship.

Stay tuned for our official announcement of Waterfront Athena 8! If you’re in the Pacific Northwest and want to participate, reach out to the Athena team on Facebook, Twitter or e-mail!

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!

athenaTHINK – A Partnership With SPAWAR SSC PAC

By: Dr. Benjamin Migliori

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In just a week, San Diego will be the home to the first ever athenaTHINK: A design thinking workshop in partnership with SPAWAR SSC PAC’s Grassroots S&T.

Last year, we hosted warfighters from the USS Benfold at SSC PAC to foster better innovation, more inspired projects, and a better interface between Sailors and Scientists.  Next week, we’ll be doing that again.  Our purpose is to give warfighters and technologists a chance to work together in a Design Thinking framework, and to open up the possibility of meaningful collaboration.

We’ll be giving Sailors an opportunity to see some of the bleeding edge work that we do here at SSCPAC, and giving the scientists a chance to hear real concerns from actual warfighters, rather than simply reading about them in briefs and training manuals.  We’ll be introducing the ideas of Design Thinking for military applications, and showing that the civilian entrepreneurs don’t get to have all the fun.  We’ll be competing for a best project award – which could turn into much more and be the seed for a new initiative.

Further, many of these ideas could be prime candidates to pitch at a Waterfront Athena event! And, with the next event coming to us in late February, this workshop is a great opportunity to hammer through some big ideas.

Why should we do this? Why does this matter?

Vannevar Bush, Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development during World War II, seemed to think that neither technologists nor warfighters possessed the complete understanding necessary for effective R&D.

“…no scientist could hope to grasp fully the military phases of the problem.  This can be attained only as a result of a life spent in close association with the sea, with naval tradition, and with the responsibility of command.  Yet it is equally true that no naval officer can be expected to grasp fully the implications and trends of modern science and its applications.  This requires, equally forcefully, a lifetime spent in science, and in the personal utilization of the scientific method.”

If his premise is true, and we tend to think it has some merit, then one effective way to work around our weaknesses is to work together. Dr. James Colvard wrote about how the genesis of the Navy Labs was this idea of scientists working alongside warfighters.

“With the Manhattan Project as a model, which had General Groves in charge but working in a complementary relationship with Dr. Oppenheimer, they saw the need for a technical institution that would bring together both naval officers and scientists. Such an institution would combine, in a daily working relationship, the knowledge of the weapons needs of the Navy and the potential of science and technology to meet those needs.”

These aren’t simply words – last year’s learn warfighter needs workshop provided the spark that resulted in new avenues of research, and influenced our new virtual reality lab here at SSC PAC.  We’ll show you the pitch that led to that facility, let you see the results of the work, and then provide the creative space for you to put forth your own game-changing ideas.

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The team of Sailors and Scientists at last year’s Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop at SPAWAR SSC PAC.

By collaborating with The Athena Project,  we combine our collective technical expertise and our understanding of the Navy. Let’s work together to generate ideas that take advantage of our unique interactions.  We’ll provide the framework and the space – all you have to do is bring an open mind and an eye for strengthening the Navy.

So, if you’ve got an itch to make the Navy even better while strengthening the bond between Sailors and Scientists, sign up for the full-day Design Thinking workshop on January 28th here!

See you there!

Ben Migliori is a Ph.D. in Physics/Biophysics who used to shoot lasers at leeches (for science!) at the University of California, San Diego.  He is now a Navy researcher at SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific, where he studies data science, biologically-inspired systems, and the interface between technology and the warfighter. His goal is to use adjacent innovation to enable the Navy with game-changing technologies based on solutions found in nature.

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!

TANG – Innovation in the Big Leagues

By: LT Dave Nobles

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Last week, I was honored to attend Fast Company’s Innovation Uncensored 2014 in San Francisco to share the story of Military Innovation with a broader audience.

The magazine invited the team from Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG), to present to a room full of forward thinkers from Silicon Valley and beyond who learned that the Navy not only has an appetite for fresh ideas and creative solutions to complex problems, but that there are movements afoot that are turning those ideas into action. Fittingly, the event was on Veteran’s Day and the conference center at San Francisco’s Metreon was filled with energy and excitement for TANG.

TANG is an initiative that brings together warfighters, decision makers and engineers to tackle problems using design thinking tools. Since 2011, Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) has worked together with the international innovation consultancy and design firm IDEO and the Program Executive Office for Integrated Warfare Systems to gain operator insight and transition cutting-edge programs rapidly to the Fleet. One of the amazing things that TANG brings to the table is speed – The team is able to swiftly move from Post-It Notes and a foam-core design at a workshop to a working prototype in a matter of months, and more importantly from a prototype to a functional system onto a Navy platform in less than two years. Lightning speed, in terms of the current acquisitions pipelines in the Department of Defense.

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STG1 Rory Satink negotiating a foamcore periscope at the TANG booth.

Through several events, chiefly focused in Anti-Submarine Warfare both on Submarines and Surface Ships, the initiative is beginning to gain traction in many other fields of the Navy. During the San Francisco visit for the conference, the TANG team was able to sneak away to IDEO’s Palo Alto offices to discuss what topics upcoming workshops will attack with Design Thinking and Creative Confidence. More to come on that.

No trip to the Bay Area is complete without dropping by to hang with the gang at IDEO - Big things coming in the future!

No trip to the Bay Area is complete without dropping by to hang with the gang at IDEO – Big things coming in the future!

Beyond the interest and respect that the initiative has gained within the Fleet, the invitation to present the TANG story alongside other top-tier innovative minds like Disney’s Ed Catmull, Lyft CEO John Zimmer and Samsung’s Vice President and Head of Design Dennis Miloseski marks a validation of the innovative work that the team has accomplished in the epicenter of corporate innovation, Silicon Valley.

The director of TANG, Johns Hopkins APL’s Josh Smith, in a conversation on stage with Fast Company’s Chuck Salter, talked about some of the initiatives TANG has put into play already on Submarines, like replacing a bulky $128K joystick for periscope control with an Xbox controller.

“These Sailors have great ideas and they want to make things better,” Smith said. “We give them the tools to unleash their creativity and watch the magic happen.”

Those tools are the unique brainstorming rules developed by IDEO that the team employs at every TANG workshop, bringing Sailors from all over the Fleet together to generate powerful new concepts for the warfighter. A couple of those ideas: Defer Judgement and Encourage Wild Ideas, are what allows a concept like bringing a video game controller into a real-world tactical environment to blossom and become a reality.

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Post-It Notes: The Design Thinking calling card.

And that’s just part of the overall value proposition for harnessing operators’ ideas. Smith envisioned partnerships that leverage the extensive amount of R&D funds major corporations invest in new technologies and connecting operators’ insights to develop intuitive and effective systems that increase warfighting efficiency.

While the TANG story is a compelling one, there are numerous projects afoot in the Department of Defense, including the Army’s Rapid Equipping Force, the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell (and extended network, CRIC[x]), the Defense Entrepreneurship Forum and of course The Athena Project, the “Milicon Valley” movement doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. Especially in the wake of the recent announcement by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work that a new DoD Innovation Initiative would be announced within the week. You can read more about that here.

One thing is for sure: There’s a lot of energy out there to try to make things better across the Navy and the DoD. Imagine what we could do when we’re all pushing in the same direction!

Whatever the future may hold for innovation in the military, it’s safe to say that TANG will be a big part of it. Post-It Notes and all.

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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!

Design-Thinking A Path To Improved Warfighting

By: LT Dave Nobles

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Recently, Sailors from USS BENFOLD (DDG 65) and USS GRIDLEY (DDG 101) were fortunate to spend some time with the Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG) Forum, brainstorming future improvements to the way that surface ships perform Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW).

The TANG Forum is an initiative composed of members from Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Labs, design and innovation consulting  firm IDEO and the Program Office for Integrated Warfare Systems. The group uses design thinking to extract great ideas directly from warfighters and applies those thoughts toward designing user interfaces, consoles and other tactical systems that will be installed on the US Navy’s subs starting next year. You can read all about them in this awesome article in Undersea Warfare Magazine. Kicking off in 2011, the group has been focused primarily on how Submarines fight.

Until now.

The latest maneuver for the TANG is to come to the Surface Navy with their successful recipe for tactical improvements, and their research went full throttle in partnership with The Athena Project onboard the mighty BENFOLD’s battle barge.

Once onboard, the TANG group outlined some principles of the design thinking method, a structured approach to brainstorming that aims to create “How Might We” questions to stimulate boundless creative thought.

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Structured brainstorming with Sailors

 

The method starts with empathetic research through interviews and observations to gain an understanding of the problem. After that, the flood gates open to harvest all kinds of ideas. There’s no idea that’s wrong, no idea that’s bad, and participants are encouraged to add on to existing ideas. The plethora of ideas are voted upon to select and refine, and then prototypes are built to shift ideas from someone’s mind’s eye onto something tangible.

Tim Brown, president and CEO of IDEO, gives a great definition of design thinking here.

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Design Thinking: Quick and Dirty

“Having read about The Athena Project, we were familiar with the innovation effort onboard USS BENFOLD,” the TANG team said. “However, reading and experiencing are two completely different things. They were energized and showed awesome creativity. It was clear that this crew had some amazing ideas on how to make things better. The insights and ideas gained through the tours, interviews, and ideation sessions are critical for our preparation for the Surface TANG Forum.”

LTJG Mike Claus, BENFOLD’s recently-turned-over Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer lauded the TANG Forum, enjoying the ideation sessions from start to finish.

“One idea discussed was to implement an internship program with SWRMC and the PEO before SONAR techs report to their first ship or while waiting for their next school,” LTJG Claus said. “This would build a deeper understanding of their equipment directly from the subject matter experts.  It’s awesome that efforts like TANG Forum are making this happen!”

After the flurry of ideas the TANG team departed BENFOLD, leaving behind them a wake of Post-It Notes. The next stop was a tour of USS GRIDLEY (DDG 101).

By the hospitality of her crew, the TANG Forum was able to gain even more insight into the spaces where SONAR technicians operate and to fully grasp the spatial constraints of a DDG. The team observed SONAR spaces, the Combat Information Center (CIC) as well as some other command and control nodes onboard.

“I’m not sure if it was planned, but the sun was setting as we made it to the bridge on the GRIDLEY…absolutely gorgeous.” the TANG team said.

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Next on the horizon for the Surface TANG team is a research trip to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii next month to continue massaging their process, ensuring that the right questions are asked and the best solutions are built.

We’re excited about the future and all that it will mean for the Surface Navy!

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

Interested in pitching at our upcoming Waterfront Athena Event on February 13th at San Diego’s Ballast Point Little Italy Tasting Room? Message us!

Be sure to like TANG on Facebook! Athena too! 

 

 

Sailor, Allow Me To Introduce Scientist…

By LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell

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Back in December Josh Kvavle came to us with a simple question:  How can we help the technologists better understand the warfighter and the atmosphere they work in?

A few years ago at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command (SPAWAR), Josh created a “Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop” for the Grassroots S&T technologists with just this in mind.  But with only a few hours of sailor interaction in the past, he seemed all but qualified for the job.  After working with USS BENFOLD on a few other projects that junior Sailors pitched at Athena events, Josh and SPAWAR came to us and wanted to know what we think the technologists should know about what we do.

After a day of collaboration and brainstorming with Josh and his team, we started to understand just how little technologists and Sailors knew about each other. So, we figured it might be worth it to create a whole day dedicated to educating these Sailors and scientists about each other, connecting some dots that truly needed to be connected.  From there the wheels began to turn and we soon found ourselves planning a fun, informative and collaborative day to continue to help strengthen the bond between SPAWAR and the fleet.

The end goal was simple:  Make the Navy better.  If the technologists who are creating the systems we use understood the user better, couldn’t they make a better product?  How often is a sailor frustrated with the way a system is designed but figure they could never have a say in changing it?  What are the problems out there that the technologists aren’t working on yet?

On January 14th, we had the first ever co-sponsored Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop, and based on the incredibly positive response from the more than 60 that participated, it certainly won’t be the last!

The event kicked off with an Introduction to SPAWAR, focused on teaching Sailors what SPAWAR is, what they do and how they can help us.  We are extremely fortunate in San Diego to have a fleet concentration area within miles of one SPAWAR’s biggest research, development, test, evaluation and engineering fleet support facilities, yet we barely know what they do up on that hill at Point Loma.  After getting a better understanding of how cool their stuff is we were treated to technology tours across some of the most beautiful property in all of San Diego.

Tours were split up between Bayside, Seaside and Topside facilities all with exciting attractions. Sailors got to understand where the scientists work and the scope of their projects through tours of the Marine Mammal Program, the unmanned underwater vehicle program, the robotics lab, model shop, and more.  Each tour gave a unique perspective of how much research and development goes into each new piece of technology introduced into the fleet.  We definitely developed a greater admiration for the scientists and the work they do to help us fulfill our mission.  We wouldn’t be able to do our job serving our country if they weren’t doing their job developing our technology.

After getting familiar with their job and how they brainstorm and come up with new ideas, BENFOLD’s Captain, CDR Rich LeBron gave a great presentation on how his Sailors use The Athena Project and other avenues to express their ideas.  But still, the scientists knew very little about the fundamentals of the Navy and our everyday jobs, so we gave a brief interactive presentation to educate them about the ins and outs of shipboard life.  We walked them through the chain of command, gave them a perspective into each department, broke down some of our standard acronyms and described our watchstanding. Perhaps even more importantly than painting a picture of the environment, they were able to understand the areas on the ship for which they could help develop new technology.  Although the presentation may have seemed basic to most in uniform, it was a great way to take a step back and identify the little things that we take for granted but may be crucial to the scientist when developing new technology.

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Prototyping a way to improved efficiency!

After understanding Navy lingo a little better, it was time to start the fun stuff!  With lunch came some awesome interaction – it was amazing to see how a little mingling could spark big ideas and great conversations all over the room! We had brand new seaman who had only been on the ship for a couple of months engaging with scientists with PHDs from John Hopkins and MIT!

Now THIS was getting very cool.

After lunch, everyone partnered up: At least one Sailor paired with at least one scientist.  Sure, there was some shyness at first, but before long, groups popped up all over the room and started getting really excited to start fixing problems!  The environment rapidly became electric: Each group identifying problems, but trying hard not to brainstorm solutions until later.  Technologists were encouraged to ask some “dumb” questions to get the sailor thinking outside of the box and identify things they might not have noticed on their own. Teams generated problem statements and away we went to brainstorm!

With some brainstorming guidelines and tricks, the room got quiet and everyone quickly began scribbling down on paper.  The brainstorming sessions were so successful that we even added extra time to let the creative juices flow!  Brainstorming concluded with each group coming up with an idea to prototype.  As a new activity to the innovators on BENFOLD, prototyping was a fun way to see your idea come to life and lighten up the activity.  It was like a room full of arts and crafts, and very effective for pitching to the large group!

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BENFOLD Sailors reimagining Tomahawk functionality.

Pitch proposals were very similar to our Athena presentations but were strictly limited to two minutes and given with prototypes in hand.    We had presentations that made you laugh, some that gave you that “ah-ha” moment, and some that made many say “Why didn’t I think of that earlier?”.

Ideas included camera technology for maintenance, digital maneuvering board designs, advanced internal communication systems, seawater activated watches, hydraulic flight deck nets, a personalized training app and a spray paint rail system to paint the hull.  Some of ideas are already out there, some might not be efficient, and some just might make no sense – but that doesn’t matter.   Even if none of the ideas get traction (although some already have) the idea is to develop our Sailors into critical thinkers.  At the same time, the technologists are learning the needs of the Sailor and identifying shortfalls for future technology development. It was so cool to see the lightbulbs go off and the smiles on the faces at the end of the day.

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Ideas abound – this one for Augmented Reality on Surface Ships.

At the beginning of December when we met with Josh and the SPAWAR team, I don’t think any of us could have imagined an outcome like this.  It’s amazing to see the ideas from the fleet and how much you can create in a few hours.  The technologists were excited and eager to go back to their offices and start development and have already been contacting us on ideas generated.  Our Sailors came back to the ship proud of their prototypes and supportive of technology, the innovation process and the scientists behind it.

In the end, as cheesy as it might sound, everyone was a winner. Maybe the most important thing, though, was that everyone felt that in some way, however small, we achieved our goal of making the Navy better.

If you ask me, I’d say it’s just the beginning.

LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell is the Training Officer onboard USS BENFOLD (DDG 65). She’s a Marine Engineering graduate of Massachusetts Maritime Academy class of 2010.

Interested in being a part of the next Learn Warfighter Needs Workshop?  Want to meet a technologist and get to know more about SPAWAR?  If so, contact LTJG O’Donnell at odonnellk@ddg65.navy.mil or message The Athena Project on Facebook or Twitter! 

If You Give an Engineer a Toy: Building a Better Command Center

Here’s an article about design thinking and prototyping leading to real innovation in the fleet. Cross-posted in partnership with our friends at CIMSEC.org

At Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Newport we recently began an internal investment project—the Seamless and Intuitive Warfare Workforce Development Project—to develop the next generation of “system of systems” engineers. These engineers will ideally be trained to view problems and develop solutions in a holistic manner, breaking from the stove-piped designs of legacy systems.  As an underlying theme for the effort, NUWC Newport focused on the “One System” vision for submarine tactical systems.  This idea was originally conceptualized at the Tactical Advancements for Next Generation (TANG) forum and further advocated by the submarine fleet.  In pursuit of this vision, the team explored potential improvements for submarine combat system interfaces and for the control room as a way to improve the information flow and the effectiveness of the control room’s contact management team.

Our approach:

1. Team Formation: We recruited and selected a cross-departmental team of 10 young engineers, typically with 3-7 years experience, from the Sensors and Sonar Systems, Combat Systems and Electromagnetic Systems Departments at NUWC Division Newport.

2. Baselining on Current Combat Systems: We cross-trained the team using military personnel  in the Combat Systems Collaboration And Fleet Experimentation (CAFÉ) laboratory on an end-to-end layout of a Virginia-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) control room, driven by a Submarine Multi Mission Team Trainer (SMMTT) system with sonar and combat control watch teams.  An imaging simulator was even used to populate the periscope view with surface contacts when operating at periscope depth.

Virginia Class layout

Virginia Class layout

3. Innovation Process: The team brainstormed initial concepts for next-gen integrated tactical systems, generating around 40-50 ideas, from which about 8 concepts were selected by the team for early prototyping with mock-ups (see Figure 2 below for evolution of original ideas to early prototypes).  These mock-ups were cut-out model representations using basic materials such as foam-core, cardboard and coloring sheets; and served to focus the team’s attention on details of scale and placement that would not have otherwise occurred.

Evolution of initial ideas into quick prototypes

Evolution of initial ideas into quick prototypes

Matt Puterio of the Sensors and Sonar Department, described his participation in the process of innovation and prototyping:

“Today’s Sailors are accustomed to immersive video games, advanced smart phones and tablets, intuitive multi-touch applications and can easily navigate the highly networked and always-connected world in which we now live in (so-called ‘digital natives’).  Our project aims to leverage this natural affinity coupled with advanced technologies such as high resolution multi-touch displays, and mobile computing devices, and new software concepts such as cloud computing and virtualization and apply them to the demanding needs of the tactical warfighter.  Sailors should be able to seamlessly adapt their high-tech civilian skills to the world of Undersea Warfare with minimal re-training and Seamless and Intuitive USW is focused on making this goal a reality.”

The innovation process we followed was modeled after one developed by design and innovation consulting firm IDEO; the same process used by the TANG workshop. Generating a series of “How might we…” questions (called HMWs), the group brainstormed ideas for what improvements could be created.  The  members of the brainstorming group then  came up with ideas to answer the questions (e.g. “redesign the layout of the control center!”) and wrote their ideas along with descriptive pictures to better explain the idea on sticky notes; one idea per sticky.  Emphasis was on rapid and not necessarily well thought-out ideation along with quick sketches for each idea.  The fast-paced nature of this exercise kept team members excited and stimulated creativity.

Brainstorming in action!

Brainstorming in action!

After investigating each idea, the group voted on the ideas they found most interesting, most powerful, or most disruptive.  Sub-groups of 2-5 team members were formed, and each sub-group picked a high scoring response to a HMW question that they would like to prototype.  This stage of prototyping was very basic; 4-K displays, iPads, iPhones, Android tablets, cloud computing, and multi-touch monitors took a back seat to foamcore, construction paper, hot glue, whiteboards, Sharpies, and dry erase markers.  The immediate goal wasn’t to get an actual product out to the fleet—rather to build a better mental model of the top ideas before laying the groundwork for an actual system.  Some of our prototypes at this stage included an operator workstation stack built out of foamcore, models of how we envisioned the layout of futuristic control rooms built from construction paper and foamcore (complete with popsicle stick sailors), and a 3D-display made from transparency sheets and foamcore.

Building rough prototypes literally turns words on paper into tangible objects.  Tangible objects are easier to work with since they do not require the imagination of onlookers and fellow team members.  A 3D-display may seem unnecessary until a fellow team member shows a physical model with a clay “ownship” submarine at the center and contacts of interest at various ranges and bearings on the display, directly modeling the actual tactical picture in the current environment.

Ideation straight to prototyping.

Ideation straight to prototyping.

From here our Seamless & Intuitive USW group branched out in two directions; software application development and virtual worlds (VW) modeling.  The “App Team” focused on taking the most promising and realistic rough prototypes (in terms of team skills and project timeframe) and prototyped them in an actual software environment.  This year we had access to a Perceptive Pixel multi-touch workstation with the Qt development environment that enabled us to quickly put together a few simple applications to interactively demonstrate the same concepts we prototyped using the arts & crafts materials.  One example was a “Multi-touch App Manager” which allowed a user to pull open a menu of “available apps” similar to the app icons on Android or iOS, and resize and drag individual “apps”—simply static tactical screenshots in our prototype—around the workspace. Other examples included a demo of three different ways to select a trace on a display and a “Five Finger” multi-touch menu that enables users to pull open an intuitive menu simply by placing their right or left hand on the display surface.

Some of the ideas we brainstormed couldn’t adequately be represented in software.  Rather than build a full-sized model submarine control room, the other branch of our group, the “Tiger Team,” employed their modeling skills with Second Life, a virtual world simulator.  The Tiger Team worked with the “Virtual Worlds” group at NUWC, a team with expertise in creating realistic virtual models of Navy ships, submarines, and facilities in Second Life.  The Virtual Worlds group assisted the Tiger Team in building realistic models of concepts such as new control room layouts, next-generation displays (such as the previously mentioned 3D-display), and even interactive displays by utilizing Second Life’s VNC capability.

Futuristic Command Center conceptual layout in Virtual Worlds.

Futuristic Command Center conceptual layout in Virtual Worlds.

The next step from here is implementing these prototypes on live data-streams, and integrating them as advanced engineering modules into a tactical system.  So far we have given various demonstrations of our concepts, and have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our colleagues, internal NUWC management, and fleet representatives from Submarine Development Squadron TWELVE at the annual DEVRON12-NUWC Tech Exchange.  The simplicity of the design-thinking process allowed our small team of engineers to go from ideas on sticky notes to working software prototypes and virtual models in several weeks.

We are eager to continue our work on Seamless and Intuitive USW. In addition to being an excellent platform for idea formation, this project was fun, exciting, and served as a vehicle to achieve our objective of developing the next generation of “system of systems” engineers. Working with next-generation technology is always a pleasure, and the expectation that our ideas will make it onto a shipboard system and help sailors perform their functions better makes our work even more worthwhile.

Contact Information:

Project Lead: chidambar.ganesh@navy.mil 401-832-3887

Co-Lead:  raymond.j.rowland@navy.mil 401-832-8207