Athena DC 2.0 Roundup

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By AT1 Mike Pecota

Following last year’s inaugural Athena DC 1.0, the second event had much to live up to. In contrast to the previous year’s grand setting inside the Gaylord National Convention Center this year’s event took place in a much more traditional Athena setting: The Irish Whisper Pub right in the heart of National Harbor and it didn’t take long for the audience of Athenians to take over the entire space!

Both years’ events immediately followed the Sea Air Space convention held annually at the Gaylord, taking advantage of the senior Naval leadership the convention brings with it each year.

After winning last year’s event, I had the distinct honor of hosting this year’s event (and being the first Enlisted host of any Athena event). We kicked off with a brief introduction and welcome, we began to foster in a new generation of innovative thinkers!

In keeping up with the high standards set in DC 1.0, this years panel members were hand-chosen for their contribution to innovation leadership in the local area. Unlike any event before it, this year’s presenters and board members alike represented the best of innovation from both the Navy and Marine Corps. Board members included Joshua Smith, the director of TANG at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab; Monica Hutchins, a leader within the Strategy and Innovation office at the Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy (Management); and Captain James Lamontie of the Marine Corps’ Installation and Logistics (I&L) office and the NexLog Innovation Cell.

 The years of experience in grassroots innovation these panelists brought to the table made for some impactful insights into our presenters’ pitches!

And without further ado, let’s get to the ideas!

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Sims Winner Jerin Raby, and the host (and his 3D Printed bowtie).

AM2 Jerin Raby – Fleet Readiness Center Mid Atlantic, Detachment Patuxent River

*** Athena DC 2.0 Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage ***

Jerin presented her idea, which comes right from the “why aren’t we already doing this” file, with the clarity and expertise of an experienced Sailor well versed in the difficulties facing all aviation maintenance. Her proposal – to replace the oversized metallic toolboxes, used throughout Naval flight line maintenance, with lighter custom made backpacks – clearly struck the heartstrings of the crowd. As she reflected on her past experiences with the cumbersome toolboxes, you could see the expressions of many in the room as they recanted their own trials and difficulties using the outdated boxes.

The main focus of Jerin’s proposal was to help eliminate back problems and related injuries associated with lugging the tool boxes across flightiness and up and down ships’ ladderways. She explained the safety concerns and dangers the boxes pose to others as one makes their way through dark hallways. A secondary focus of her proposal was the benefits sailors having the use of both hands on the flight line and while traversing ships. Any maintainer could now have the use of both hands to keep them on their feet while traveling around the ship.

HM2 Joshua Cranford – Naval Hospital Annapolis

Joshua returned to the ATHENA DC, making him the only presenter to pitch ideas at both settings. As a reflection of his idea last year to increase mission readiness and cost savings by switching duty vehicles over to hydrogen power, this year he proposed taking the eco friendly hydrogen power and introducing it to the world of submariners. The extreme dedication to his mission, of a Navy powered by hydrogen power, shone as he walked the crowd through the pro’s and cons of having this alternative fuel powering the vessels of tomorrow.

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One of the crowd voters, and his soon-to-be-scored presentation grading sheet.

AE3 Jordan Brady – Fleet Readiness Center Mid Atlantic, Detachment Washington

Jordan knew after witnessing ATHENA DC 1.0 first hand, that he was going to bring an idea in 2017. His concept was  to use high powered lasers to aid sailors in the tedious task of corrosion removal. With corrosion being the number one enemy of any metal floating in the middle of the ocean, his idea spoke to both the surface and aviation members of the audience. Many of whom have undoubtedly spent many painstaking hours with needle guns and wire brushes keeping their vessels in the fight whether on the sea or in the air.

SSgt Alex Long – Ammunition Logistics Focus Team

Alex was the first Marine ever to bring an idea to an Athena event! His time working with munitions and weapons lead him to the startling discovery that humans are flawed. One individual manning a armory can hold up the operations of an entire unit. Alex’s solution was to automate the system through the use of robotics and digital accountability. His idea is not new to the logistics, but hasn’t found it’s rightful place in the world of weaponry in the Marine Corps, according to Alex.

AOAN Marissa Cross – Fleet Readiness Center Mid Atlantic, Detachment Patuxent River

Marissa finished the evening with a lifesaving bit of innovation. Her take on shipboard safety assisted any personal facing catastrophic conditions while potentially trapped within a ship. The problem: during true crisis at sea, vision is usually impaired making the glow-in-the-dark stickers (telling one their location in the ship) virtually unusable. Her solution: place 3D printed arrows throughout the ship directing sailors to the nearest point of exit. This allowed anyone who may find themselves visually impaired to tactually find their way to safety regardless of visibility.

In reflection, the authenticity of the evening’s setting combined with the passion of the presenters made for a night of true innovation. The ideas exchanged and connections made instilled an exhilarating air of electricity much needed in todays ever evolving military. The integration of two branches with the common goal of mission readiness will help set the pace for all future endeavors both here in the great United State of America, and abroad to wherever the mission may take us next.

AT1 Mike Pecota is an Aviation Electronics Technician /Assistant Innovation Team Lead for Fleet Readiness Center Mid Atlantic, Detachment Patuxent River. He’s also a driving force on the Additive Manufacturing Team and Innovation Cell at NAVAIR and the Admiral Sims Award winner from Athena DC 1.0.

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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.