Athena East 2.0 Roundup

By: Dave Nobles

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Weather be damned! Despite the rain spinning off Hurricane Joaquin, a horde of innovators gathered at Work|Release on Friday in Norfolk, Virginia for the second Athena East event.

The crowd of like-minded innovators that braved the elements to come out to Athena East 2.0!

The crowd of like-minded innovators that braved the elements to come out to Athena East 2.0!

We love to iterate our process, so we had quite a few “firsts” for this event. This time, our event was co-sponsored by the Surface Navy Association, the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC), and the United States Naval Institute. We were also happy to have our friends from the Virginian Pilot there, writing a great story about the event you can read here.

Adding to our firsts, we had a panel of senior “Sharks” to provide some insight on our five presentations and help to find pathways for those concepts to find a way to the Sailors that could benefit from them. While these Sharks didn’t cast votes (as always, that was the responsibility of the 60 innovators who braved the elements to come out) they did provide feedback to each of the presenters to contribute to our “Yes, And” culture.

Our Cyber Shark, CAPT Heritage showing off his custom Captain hoodie.

Our Cyber Shark, CAPT Heritage showing off his custom Captain hoodie.

The Sharks included CAPT Robert Bodvake, Commodore of Destroyer Squadron 22; CAPT John Carter, Commanding Officer of USS BATAAN (LHD 5); CAPT Sean Heritage, Commanding Officer of Navy Cyber Defense Operations Command; CAPT Jeffrey Sheets, Production Officer for the Mid Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center C-900; and Brett Vaughn, Science and Technology Advisor to OPNAV N2/N6. The tremendous insight that these Sharks provided by donning their raincoats (and in some cases, hoodies) to catalyze the creativity at the event was phenomenal and absolutely something that The Athena Project will be leveraging in our future events!

One of our sharks, Brett Vaughn, getting down to business with a presenter as CAPT Carter and CAPT Bodvake look on.

One of our sharks, Brett Vaughn, getting down to business with a presenter as CAPT Carter and CAPT Bodvake look on.

Another addition we’ve made to our process – and one that’s definitely going to stick – is the prizes we gave to our participants, donated from local organizations. While we gave a prize to the winner at Waterfront Athena Eight (or, Athena West 8.0) provided by our friends at MakerPlace in San Diego, this time we gave amazing prizes to all of our presenters.

All our participants received memberships to 757 Makerspace in Norfolk and Improv 101 classes provided by Push Comedy Theater, generously bestowed by our friends Beau Turner and Brad McMurren, respective heads of those fine organizations. At The Athena Project, we believe that unlike a simple monetary incentive, these prizes are tremendous for our Athenians’ personal development, and will go a long way to turbocharge their innovative spirit and give them tools they can bring back to their respective commands to make them better!

With appropriate libations in the hands of our soggy audience, the innovation was set to get underway! Let’s get down to the ideas!

***Athena East 2.0’s Admiral Sims Award For Intellectual Courage***

FC2(SW) Aaron Vickers, USS LABOON – Headset Adaptors

Those who have had the joy of standing watch in the Combat Information Center of a surface ship may note that the headsets for the consoles in the space can leave a little to be desired. Some of the chief complaints of the existing headsets include durability, functionality, comfort and the fact that they are germ sponges, potentially passing illnesses from watchstander to watchstander that eventually spread throughout the small crew of a surface ship.

What FC2 Vickers proposed was an elegantly designed adaptor that would allow Sailors to bring their own gaming headsets (or even iPhone earbuds) to watch, improving all the areas that had previously been Sailor gripes. Fielding questions from the audience on concerns such as preventative maintenance requirements and durability of commercial headsets, Vickers proposed since each individual would invest in their own headset, they would be much more likely to care for the equipment. And, to respond to durability concerns, Vickers referenced the likelihood of online video game players to throw their headsets across the room or through a TV when things didn’t go right. In nearly every instance, the gamer can just put the headset back on and continue playing. By comparison, Vickers said, if a shipboard headset is merely dropped there is a legitimate fear that the device will cease to function altogether.

As the winner of Athena East 2.0, Vickers received a year-long membership to 757 Makerspace where he can continue to iterate his concept, which received high praise from the Sharks and from the crowd.

CWO2 Steve Sturm, Assault Craft Unit FOUR – Vehicle Washdown System

Yet another Athena concept born out of frustration and wasted manhours, Warrant Officer Sturm proposed a fresh water system for amphibious ships to rinse off Marine Corps gear and expeditionary equipment upon return from the beach. In his daily job, Sturm wastes significant time and resources to reconfigure vehicles and scrub biologics off of them to prevent corrosion. He said that a fresh water washing system on the ramp of an amphibous ship that would spray vehicles down upon arrival would save the Navy considerable time and reduce potential safety mishaps, all while saving money for the Navy and Marine Corps by preventing corrosion of equipment. With a video demonstrating the operability of Sturm’s proposed system, the Sharks and the crowd were able to get a full feel of what his innovation would bring to the table (or the well deck, as it were).

Pictures and video demonstrate the concept from CWO2 Sturm's pitch.

Pictures and video demonstrate the concept from CWO2 Sturm’s pitch.

FC1(SW) Robert Williams, USS LABOON – Future Leadership Enhancement Training (FLEET)

The inspiration behind Williams’ idea was the leadership training program for Chief Petty Officer Selects, and those striving to become Chief Petty Officers within the Navy called CPO 365. He noted that there was a gap in coverage for a program like this: Second Class Petty Officers, striving to become Leading Petty Officers at their respective commands did not have an open forum/panel-led discussion of important topics to prepare them for their next leadership position. Williams proposed constructing a program that would inspire discussion rather than “killing” attendees via Powerpoint and allowing Petty Officers to present peer-voted topics of importance. The idea inspired a generative discussion from the crowd, with Sharks requesting specifics (and eventually being introduced as the presenter’s Commodore), and a discussion about measuring the effectiveness of the program. Williams will continue to iterate his concept with the help of those in attendance, but his inspiring idea has identified a space in which a positive impact can be made for the future leaders of the Fleet. Obviously, a subject that’s at the very core of what we do at The Athena Project!

LT Pete Barkley, United States Naval Academy – Schedule Automation

LT Barkley pitched an concept that he developed over the last two summers to automatically write flight schedules for flight training squadrons like those down in Pensacola. Through testing and iteration, Barkley has used the program to execute over 7,500 flight events to cut down scheduling work time by 75% and producing a better scheduling product than 12 Junior Officers would spend a day working on. And it does the calculations in about a minute at the press of a button.

Barkley did a live demonstration of his concept, which takes into account several metrics when generating the schedules. The crowd responded incredibly positively to the concept, and offered that the idea could be further developed to work within the Surface Community with the addition of more metrics and data, required to effectively build a watchbill on a Surface Ship. The Sharks liked it too, so much to make connections within the Office of Naval Research to continue development of the idea.

LT Todd Coursey, Mid Atlantic Regional Maintenance Center – Innovation Through Action

Coursey’s vision is to put portable lathes, sintering machines and various other “making” tools closer to the Fleet to enable real-time creativity. He proposed that his goal of democratizing innovation could be realized by providing tools for Sailors with big ideas to make them happen, complete with policy recommendations. Coursey engaged with the Sharks, proposing that innovation must be something that we really do, specifically referencing the ability for Sailors to produce circuit cards on demand for repairs onboard ships.

Connecting with the Sharks.

Connecting with the Sharks.

With all the ideas having been presented, we were fortunate to welcome two success stories of Fleet innovation while the votes were being tallied. AT1 Richard Walsh, a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, discussed the seven-year journey to bring his tool, SMART, to life. The tool helps to improve preventative and corrective maintenance by calculating probabilities to assist with replacement part ordering and real-time work scheduling. Following him, LT Jason Shaw discussed his path to patenting systems that he has developed to increase tool accountability during repairs.

LT Matt Hipple emceeing his heart out.

LT Matt Hipple emceeing his heart out.

The power behind any Athena event is the network, and that was demonstrated in spades during Athena East 2.0. In many respects, The Athena Project is a Bat Signal: A way to “light up the sky” (that may or may not be filled with raindrops) to connect innovators and creatives within the DoD to work together toward making positive change for the future of our armed forces.

As we shine our signal into the air for our next events, whether it’s in Jacksonville, Yokosuka, San Diego, Hawaii, or Groton, we hope that we can band together to be the Innovation Initiative that the DoD deserves, and the one that it wants!

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.

Stay tuned for the upcoming Athena Far East 1.0 and Athena Southeast 1.0! If you’re in the Jacksonville or Yokosuka areas and you 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!

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Waterfront Athena 8 Roundup

By LCDR Mark Blaszczyk and LTJG Tom Baker

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Last week, we hosted our eighth Waterfront Athena Event at Societe Brewing Company Tasting Room in San Diego’s Mira Mesa. We had our best turnout yet for another incredible presentation of talent from ten of our fleet Sailors and military civilians. Nearly 100 innovators from Southern California and beyond packed the small brewery on Friday, August 28th, ready to hear some powerful ideas, directly from the deckplates.

It was great to see a diverse community of thinkers from the fleet, with four separate communities within the Navy represented, not to mention our friends from the Marine Corps that drove in from Miramar. We were thrilled to see not only our old friends, including the team from SPAWAR Systems Center Pacific, but to have new Athenians join our growing network. Representatives from Naval Sea Systems Command’s NSWC Corona division, Naval Air Systems Command and the City of San Diego Mayor’s Office were in attendance, along with many entrepreneurs, designers and technical experts from the San Diego region. It’s always incredibly humbling to stand shoulder to shoulder with so many enthusiastic Athenians and this event was no exception.

To start things off we had a previous presenter, STG1 Butcher, talk about the development of his “Air Squeegee” idea that he presented at Waterfront Athena Seven. His concept, as well as fellow Athena Seven presenter BMSR Dorsey’s Rustbuster, were showcased by a team of SPAWAR engineers showing the 3D rendering of the ideas. It was powerful to see the progress these Sailors have been able to achieve in such a short period of time.

STG1 Butcher kicks off our event by showcasing the development with his Air Squeegee concept

STG1 Butcher kicks off our event by showcasing the development with his Air Squeegee concept

This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen previous presenters giving updates at the onset of our event, but it was the first time we’ve had a prize for our Admiral Sims Award Winner! Our friends at San Diego’s MakerPlace were generous to donate a month-long membership and a free instructional class at their facility to the winner. At The Athena Project, we firmly believe that personal development education is a powerful prize to offer at these events and we’re looking forward to partnering up with more organizations in our various regions in the future to deliver excellent experiential prizes to our presenters!

LTJG Tom Baker presents the future for BMSR Dorsey's Rustbuster.

LTJG Tom Baker presents the future for BMSR Dorsey’s Rustbuster.

And, without further delay, let’s hear about those presenters from Athena Eight:

*** The Waterfront Athena Eight Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage***

 “FUSED and OTTER” – LCDR Korban Blackburn & Brandon Naylor, Naval Postgraduate School 

Coming down from Monterey, CA to present their idea, this team presented a concept  to not just save the fleet fuel but to help the Navy better understand its fuel consumption. The Fuel Usage Study Extended Demonstration (FUSED) is an Excel/VBA program to model the fuel consumption of the surface fleet and analyze the effects of different policy changes such as single generator operations on CGs and DDGs or allowing different amounts of time to complete transits. It is currently being used in two NPS research projects relating to transit speed recommendations to carrier strike groups and removing the four hour PIM window constraint, but is capable of much more and needs a way to gain traction among key decision makers. One of the best parts of his idea is it is ready for fleet use, so look for it at command near you in the near future.

The second concept by the NPS team was OTTER (Optimized Transit Tool Easy Reference) – the transit planning tool designed to help ships use their fuel more efficiently in order to allow more time on station. OTTER has two distinct tools for planning transits: The first provides a simple overview of how long to spend at what speeds for a given transit, while the second is a short-term planning tool that accounts for different starting positions of ships in the group and scheduled drills and produces a schedule of when each ship should travel at the suggested speeds in order to keep the group (more or less) together and within the PIM window. Both tools show approximately how much fuel is saved by following the suggested schedule

For the first time, we had our winners come from further than San Diego, which made their ability to exercise the donation from MakerPlace difficult. Graciously, the pair transferred their prize to the second place finisher, IT1 Anthony Freshour from USS MAKIN ISLAND. A class act by the team from Monterey!

“MWR Network At Sea” – IT1 Anthony Freshour, USS MAKIN ISLAND

IT1 Freshour, frustrated by slowed bandwidth and “internet hours” onboard ships at sea, proposed a fresh way to circumvent the current systems to provide Sailors with a better service. His idea is an MWR network for Sailors separate from the ship’s network to alleviate normal work traffic and allow Sailors better quality of life. This network be installed ahead of shipboard networks onboard a ship, and would allow Sailors to access social media websites and other public websites. In addition, Sailors could use this to pursue advanced educational opportunities via online courses. By segregating this traffic, the normal NIPRnet traffic could be used for official business and/or dedicate more bandwidth towards other networks.

IT1 had some command support backing up his idea, with USS MAKIN ISLAND’s Commanding Officer, CAPT Jon Rodgers, and CSIO, LCDR Bobby Griffith, helping out during the Question and Answer session. With such a supportive command, we look forward to seeing a lot of movement from IT1 as he works toward his idea!

“RHIB Welldeck on LCS 1 variants” – ET1 Jason Luke, LCS Crew 101

Watching RHIBs being loaded on LCS 1 variants and thinking about a better way, ET1 Luke thought maybe there could be a solution resting dormant in some of the Navy’s current operations.

ET1 Luke proposed that instead of a ramp area at the stern of the Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ships, a well deck would relieve some of the flooding concerns. In addition, this redesign would expedite onloads and offloads of critical components and provide relief for all LCS variants’ manning concerns. Man hours would be reduced and safety increased, which would lighten the load for such a small crew. There would be some challenge in the implementation of this idea as it would require significant modifications to the current hulls and redesign of future hulls. Despite the challenge, ET1 Luke is optimistic that this is a viable option for LCS platforms.

“Voice Translator” – DC2 Horace Campbell, USS BENFOLD

Have you ever been in a foreign country and wished that the vendor you were speaking to had subtitles that you could read, to communicate more easily? When this idea struck DC2 Campbell, he was compelled to provide a military application. His immediate concept customers were our Special Forces and VBSS teams. This technology could help them to instantly translate foreign language conversations, delivering precious moments of advanced warning.

Imagine a hearing device in your ear that has a microchip built within. This connects wirelessly to a transceiver box the size of a canteen pouch carried on the user which transmits language data to the hearing device. This box is what receives spoken language from an outside entity, translates into the desired language, and transmits the translation to the user’s earpiece.

DC2 Campbell described how implementation of this device would not only reduce safety risks, but act as a stepping stone for building foreign relations. He even delivered the audience a imagine of the near future within the reach of national consumers where we can incorporate this technology with mobile phones!

“Military Ride” – MN1 Antawan Hinton, COMLCSRON ONE

Thinking of his junior sailors, MN1 Hinton presented an idea reminiscent of other ride sharing such as Uber and Lyft. Looking at all the travel he does between bases in the completion of his duties, MN1 Hinton envisioned a ride sharing service similar to Uber in which service members or their family can share rides between facilities like Naval Medical Center San Diego at Balboa and 32nd Street Naval Base. This would help to alleviate parking issues at many of these facilities and reduce fuel consumption while at the same time helpful to those sailors and families without vehicles. Making this as a phone application would also help sailors after a night out on the town find a ride back to base, helping to reduce DUI violations among service members.

“Efficiency of use of Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center” – EODC Dave Bernhardt, EOD Training & Evaluation Unit ONE

In a thought provoking presentation, EODC Bernhardt proposed an idea to close/lease Fleet Anti-Submarine Warfare Training Center similar to Liberty Station in San Diego. With a specific focus on his unit, he discussed the lack of a single tenant command on base and how the units assigned can complete their missions more effectively (and at lower cost) elsewhere. Using charts and stickies, EODC talked through the time and cost inefficiencies imposed on his unit to complete his mission. For nearly all of his training they require travel from 1-2 hours to as long as 20+ hours north to complete training. Numerous contractors are required in excess of millions of dollars for training that can be completed at other locals using military assets. His proposal also discussed the money the Navy could potential gain by leasing the land to the city of San Diego, as it is prime downtown waterfront real estate and would surely be attractive to a number of developers.

EODC Bernhardt uses some old school maps to describe his new school concept.

EODC Bernhardt uses some old school maps to describe his new school concept.

For the burdensome logistical issues involved with many of his unit’s training missions, EODC Bernhardt proposed that his command be relocated to the nearby Marine Corps base in Camp Pendleton, California. He asserted that all of the challenges associated with travel time and logistical constraints could be solved because the facilities required for his unit’s training are all located on the installation. We’ll file this idea in the “This Makes Too Much Sense” department.

“Maps” – Tracy Oldnettle, COMLSCRON ONE

Frustrated with the current manning systems used by his department within LCSRON ONE, Tracy looking at how Google Maps maps a route made him realized it really is no different than what he does now. Using a sailor’s qualifications, schedules, certifications, NEC, schools, etc. he develops a “map” to get the sailor to his billet at a specified time but it is a struggle. Currently we use several different systems, multiple excel spreadsheets, ASM, FLTMPS, share point, detailers, etc., that rely on numerous manual inputs from numerous human interfaces to find sailors then get them into a training program then hopefully get them to their crew at the right time. These numerous systems and personnel operate independently and have numerous sources of inputs leaving lots of room for error. In the LCS world, one NEC, class, or PQS could cause a ship to fail a certification.

In his vision of this system, it would use data already accessible via ASM, FLTMPS, eNTRS, and others to identify sailors that would be a good fit for LCS and develop a training “map” to get the right sailor to right crew at the right time. He believes an algorithm with a better interface would save time, training, and reduce cost giving senior commanders and crews a clearer picture of manning.

Oldnettle said that since LCS is already a large command and is only going to get bigger.   LCSRON 2 is standing up and soon we will be adding the LCS Frigate. We will be all over the globe (San Diego, Mayport, Wisconsin, Alabama, Singapore, Bahrain)  which would make creating a system now that is specific to the billet, crew, and ship an amazing time saver.

“Active Sonic Camouflage” – LTJG Chuck Fischer, Destroyer Squadron Two Three

LTJG Fischer’s concept to protect ships from being detected by submarines is an adaptation of technology you’re more likely to find in a Best Buy than a Naval Base.  His basic premise it is to surround the hull of a ship or submarine with noise-cancelling tiles to protect against passive sonar.

He proposed that the tiles could function similarly to noise canceling headphones and have an inner layer of microphones to listen for the internal sounds produced by the ship and have an outer layer of speakers to generate an inverse sound wave to cancel those sounds out. Performance could be improved by having multiple layers of tiles.

Fischer said that a system to try to counter active sonar could be attempted by incorporating a series of whiskers with microphones embedded in them around the hull to hear an active sonar sound wave before it makes contact with the rest of the hull in time for hull mounted speakers to emit an inverse wave to cancel out the active sonar ping before it hits the ship, though there are significant challenges to implementation of this concept, he admitted.

This concept is similar to an idea from Waterfront Athena Three but was described to counter active sonar only. While the road ahead for implementation of such an ambitious idea is long, Fischer seemed up to the challenge.

A fantastic turnout for our Eighth Waterfront Athena in San Diego.

A fantastic turnout for our Eighth Waterfront Athena in San Diego.

“Reforming DRRS-N” – LT Lloyd Patterson, VFA-94, Training

In the first pitch from the Aviation community at our San Diego events, LT Lloyd Patterson came from Lemoore to pitch an idea to reform the Navy’s accountability systems.

LT Patterson said that The Defense Readiness Reporting System does not accurately reflect Naval Aviation readiness because the binary nature of CBR “tasks” gives squadrons the same credit for attempting a particular task, and failing, as it does not attempting a task altogether. As a result, many squadrons and individuals disregard DRRS-N prerequisites or performance thresholds, and log the task as complete anyways.  This filters up as an inflated sense of readiness, when only nominal training exists.

His proposal is to overhaul how the Navy reports readiness.  Periodicity, tasks, experience– they’re all signals for what we’re really trying to measure: performance.  If a unit is ready for a  particular mission, then the expectation is that a certain performance threshold should follow.

“Instead of tracking tasks, let’s directly measure performance,” Patterson said. “Fortunately, TOPGUN and our debriefing process makes capturing those metrics simple. And our culture is designed to default to reporting failure, unless convinced of success.”

He proposed that capturing raw performance would have powerful implications on the Navy, potentially providing significant savings. Conducting events with little to no real performance increase are less valuable than those events with tangible increases.  Some tasks and missions may complement one another, and therefore do not require explicit training.  A performance-based system could identify the most efficient pathway between a dollar spent (flight hour) and performance increases. It could also measure the consequences of not flying, or reduced funding, for significant periods of times.  It could make predictions on how a particular air wing can expect to perform given a specific O-Plan.

LT Patterson said that he would need to overhaul DRRS-N and SHARP and collect vast amounts of performance data, employing statisticians, programmers and aviators to find correlations. Though his idea will cost money in the short term, he proposed that money could be saved by more efficient training and could be offset by knowing the truth: how is Naval Aviation actually performing?

“Anti-slack device” – LT Edward Boyston, LCS Crew 206

Reminiscent of an idea presented by STG2 Coronado during Waterfront Athena 7, LT Boyston presented an idea to address the issues of manning a phone and distance line for a Littoral Combat Ship. Underway replenishments (UNREP) for any ship is challenging event requiring all hands and this is only amplified by a crew with less than 60 personnel. The receiving ship would receive the P&D line and attach it to their ship. Using systems that already exist; a tensioned reel system would keep tension on the line while allowing it to pay in and out as necessary maintaining the tension. This would relieve the requirement of manning the line through an UNREP. This reduces stress on the crew decreasing the chance of a mistake in what is currently a rather dangerous evolution.

With so many great concepts, surely the coming months will see multiple ideas, not just the event winners’, explored and implemented to make the Navy better.

As the torch passes in San Diego, with USS BENFOLD homeport shifting to Japan, the future is as bright as the sun in Southern California for this regional chapter of The Athena Project to continue it’s tremendous growth. We received many late submissions of ideas that will make for great pitches at Waterfront Athena Nine this Fall.

And, if you’re in Norfolk, Japan or Mayport stay tuned: We’ll have some excellent innovation events coming your way soon! If you want to get involved, as always, message us!

LCDR Mark Blaszczyk is the Combat Systems Training Lead in Commander Littoral Combats Ship Squadron One and the co-lead for The Athena Project’s San Diego chapter.  He is a graduate of Purdue University with a BS in Civil Engineering and Duke University with a Masters in Business Administration.

LTJG 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!