Athena Monterey 1.0 Roundup

By LCDR Kristen Wheeler

image3

Monterey, California -truly a mecca for Naval Innovation – held its first Athena Project Pitch Event back in August at the London Bridge Pub. In a room with a view overlooking historic Monterey bay, six presenters from both Naval Postgraduate School and Defense Language Institute took the stage and brought their big ideas out into the light of day. Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and academics from a myriad of backgrounds filled the room not only with their presence, but also their enthusiasm and curiosity.

CDR Andy Newsome, who brilliantly brought two massive commands together and then organized Athena Monterey 1.0, emceed the event. Volunteers from the audience pulled names out of the cup for the order of the presenters… and then were subsequently awarded an Athena Monterey 1.0 custom-designed coin which was 3D-printed at NPS’s Maker Space, Robo Dojo. The presenters then each had 5 minutes to present their idea and then another 5 minutes to answer audience questions.

The evening proved to be electric as compelling insights unfolded one right after another both from the presenters and those who came to support. Here is a quick encapsulation of the concepts presented.

160825-n-qw561-024

LT Todd Coursey (NPS) – Maker Box

Navy LT Todd Coursey, a heavyweight in the Navy’s additive manufacturing and Maker Space movement , started the evening off by capturing our attention by bringing in a box about twice the size of a large shoe box. His concept aimed at enabling senior officer and enlisted leadership exposure to advanced digital manufacturing and coding capabilities.   Todd said that this generation is growing up in an environment where digital capabilities have become democratized to the point where seven year olds in third world nations can be taught to create micro-controllers.  Curiosity piqued, he explained to the wide-eyed audience that this box is actually a portable additive manufacturing tool that has the potential to disrupt coding and digital manufacturing education easily and widely, opening up military and civilians to endless possibilities when coupled with a cohesive, creative, and cost-effective curriculum. By giving leaders a three to five day dose of the realm of the possible when it comes to current technology and how easy it is to employ.

160825-n-qw561-038-1

Maj. Nick AionaAka (NPS) – Leadership Reimagined

Nick AionaAka delivered Athena’s first Marine Corps pitch, bringing to the crowd a very relevant and timely idea that will flip collaboration and leadership shortfalls head over heels and into the future with wings. A big believer in organization culture as the root of all innovative commands, Nick offers that giving units or unrelated groups of DoD personnel take a tactical pause and step out of the forest so they can see the trees, could prove just the ticket to help us experience and discuss key pillars such as trust, communication, collaboration, connectedness, and other cultural nuances that are necessary for next generation ingenuity to thrive. But Nick also states that stepping out of the forest proverbially can happen by stepping in an actual forest. Getting back into nature and around a campfire are the best ways to remind ourselves that authentically connecting and learning from one another has a great deal of meaning when we are doing in our most simplest environments.

Peter Ateshian (NPS) – Femto Satellite Communications

NPS Professor Peter Ateshian left the audience in awe when he explained how Femto-Satellites could rewrite the books on how we communicate. With his son by his side, Peter brought a prototype of an actual size satellite… which was ridiculously small by the way… and passed it around the audience so we could truly understand just how disruptive and enhancing this technology could be. Not only can these miniature satellite carry a signal which provide timing and position, they work in our atmosphere, in space… and can float in the ocean. Lasting 6-8 weeks, the mini-sats cost a meager $30 a pop and the capabilities that can be provided are absolutely endless.

Cpt Sarah Martin (DLI) – Aptitude Targeting

Over from Defense Language School, Army CPT Sarah Martin followed up next and presented a solution set that could increase effective recruiting of amazing foreign language instructors – The “Unicorns.” Finding exceptional language instructors at DLI is no easy task… hunting needles in haystacks, especially for obscure languages. Sarah believes we can not only find a wider selection of instructor candidates to teach our Sailors, Soldiers, Airman and Marines, but they can be found with lesser manpower… simply by harnessing the power of social media. Using sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter… even Snapchat and Instagram can be used to reach specific audiences… namely language instructors in this case. By capitalizing on public demographic information that users provide to social media sites, DLI can include this into their marketing and recruiting strategies. Targeting ads through Facebook, for example, can cost very little… as much as $0.24 a click… sometimes event less. And without being invasive, it allows people who possess the skillsets needed to teach a language to find out about employment opportunities at DLI they might not have otherwise known about. Sarah’s idea wowed the audience as she was peppered with questions and idea riffs following her presentation.

CPO John-Mark Allen (DLI) – Realizing the Paperless Navy

Chief John-Mark Allen stirred the crowd by asking anew the question every person in the Department of Defense has pondered at some point… What ever happened to the notion of a paperless Navy? His question was has been asked for over 18 years now since it was first proposed in 1998. And though there are some places where we have gone paperless, for example using NSIPS to route leave documents, we still have no shortage of blue and red folders plaguing commands. Breaking the old paradigm requires a culture shift, and Chief Allen proposes posing an internal “tax” on paper and toner. By increasing the price of paper and toner, commands will be pushed to adopt to myriad of other solutions for electronically routing documents.

image2

LT Jesse Iwuji (NPS)– NASCAR Recruiting
**Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage**

Our last presenter, LT Jesse Iwuji, immediately captured the audiences undivided attention by taking the stage in his NASCAR racing gear. As it turns out, we have within our Navy ranks a bonafide NASCAR driver… and one of two African American drivers in the circuits. When he’s not the Director of Student Services at NPS, Jesse hits the track. Jesse proposed using his influence within the NASCAR racing fan base to promote and recruit for the Navy. Because he is the only active duty driver and a minority on the circuit, Jesse attracts the camera nearly every single race. He garners an average of $1.5 million dollars worth of airtime, which is actively promotes the Navy because he’s a proud Surface Warfare Officer. However, there is more potential. The Navy could easily capture an even bigger ROI by being the only service in history to sponsor a car driven not only by their own service member, but an active duty one at that. It’s a no brainer… which is why Jesse won the Admiral Sims Award for Intellectual Courage.

Plans for Athena Monterey 2.0 and updates on our presenters coming soon… so stay tuned!

Athena East 2.0 Roundup

By: Dave Nobles

12092443_10207210504328150_1564110820_n

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!