Innovation Jam Roundup

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By Dave Nobles

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

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

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

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

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

Innovation is about taking risks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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LTJG McClenning and Dr. Russell

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

Second Place: LT Bill Hughes, OPNAV N96

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LT Hughes and Dr. Russell

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

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mention: LT Clay Greunke, SSC Pacific

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

Honorable Mention: OSC Erik Rick, Naval Beach Group ONE

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

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All of our presenters and panelists. America.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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More Than Just Nametags

By: LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell

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It has been a rough week.

Last weekend, I flew back to the East Coast to attend my grandfather’s funeral.  It was a very tough time for my family, but I was so thankful to be able to make it back and spend the weekend celebrating his life with everyone.  My grandfather had such a tremendous impact on my entire family, especially my twelve cousins and I.  He always encouraged us to follow our dreams, study hard, spend time with family, have fun, and have a strong faith.  After years spent together at Sunday dinners, vacations on Cape Cod and the annual O’Donnell Family Christmas, I only knew him as Grampy.

While celebrating his life this past weekend I had the honor of meeting the tremendous people that he had worked with for the past fifty years as a physicist and program manager for the United States Navy.  For the first time, I saw a different side of Grampy.  I always knew that he didn’t want to retire, and but I never truly understood why until this weekend.  After talking with dozens of his colleagues from Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, I understood why.

It was because of the people.

My grandfather truly got to know the people he worked with everyday and made every effort to mentor them and get to know them on a personal level.  He loved his job because of the people, and they loved him because he cared.

Just before my flight back to San Diego on Monday night I got news that I had lost a shipmate in an accident over the weekend.  Of course, I was very impacted by the news. News that you never want to get.  While I was on the plane I had time to reflect on the events of the weekend, and something really resonated with me: We are more than just nametags.  We are more than just our ratings, more than our ranks, more than our work.

We are people.

Each person that I work with everyday is someone special.  They all have a background, a family, and a past.  We all joined the Navy for different reasons and we all have a family at home, but now we are together serving as a “family” on BENFOLD. The weekend, while sad, made me appreciate that I need take the time to get to know the people I serve with as part of my ‘work family.’

We all have families outside of our work families.

We all have families outside of our work families that are waiting for us to come home.

In the Navy, our job revolves around the mission.  There is no doubt that as Sailors we come to work to get the job done everyday and we do whatever it takes to get there.  With the long hours we spend on the ship every day, not to mention the months spent away from family on deployment, we lean on each other for support and friendship.

I spent the majority of my last deployment standing watch in our Combat Information Center.  With six hours of watch everyday with the same team, I got to know them on a personal level.  Although we came from all over the country with different backgrounds and our ages ranged over twenty years, I couldn’t imagine getting through deployment without my watch team.

I would have never guessed that I would have bonded so strongly with the group, but when we took time to get to know each other we truly became a family.  My watchteam knew what team I routed for (obviously, the Patriots), how I took my coffee, why I can’t eat before I go on a run, and when I just needed my space.  Building the relationship we did on deployment made us that much more excited to go to watch together and allowed us to work together as a team when the mission called.

At sea, our teammates are our family.

At sea, our teammates are our family.

But sometimes we get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the ship.  We get stressed out with upcoming inspections, certifications and maintenance.  To be honest, I am the first person to get completely stressed and focused on the next training opportunity or be caught up preparing programs for an upcoming inspection.  And although this is all extremely important for the mission, I realize I need to take time to get to know the people around me.

Life isn’t just about the next promotion you get or the next major evolution you reach, but the people you meet along the way.  So, when you’re sitting in the next meeting or waiting to get a chit routed, take some time and get to know someone.  Ask the sailor next to you how their weekend was or where they are from or what their kids are up to.  Get to know them from a different perspective.  Because at the end of the day, they are someone’s son, they are someone’s wife, they are someone’s father, mother, sister, brother, grandfather, grandmother, friend.

At work people see me as the Training Officer.  They actually might turn the other way when they see me coming because I am usually trying to get them to attend some mandatory training event or asking why they haven’t turned in their program reviews for the week.

But they would probably be surprised to see me when I go home to Maryland.  At home, I am the oldest of three children.  My brother and I are always competing and my sister and I are always sharing clothes.  My mom and I go for runs together and I ask my dad for advice.  My grandmother still makes the best crabcakes in the world and I am usually found on the floor coloring or playing dolls with my little cousins.  I am a daughter, granddaughter, sister, cousin, friend, and Navy officer.

This week I realized that everyone I work with has a story.  Everyone has a family and everyone deserves you to get to know them.

I challenge you to recognize the people you work with.  Get to know them and see them in a personal way.  You don’t have to be friends; you just have to have empathy.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, empathy is “ the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having feelings, thoughts and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.”

Further, using empathy to understand people and how they act on the job can help us trigger insights that we might not have otherwise seen.  And that alone can be a breeding ground for innovation. Companies far and wide apply empathetic research to design new products for the end user, but who’s to say we can’t use this in the Navy to perform our mission better?

By learning about each other, we might just have more than the Navy in common.  And I’ll bet, that by getting to know the people around you it will make you that much more excited to come to work everyday.

So, the next time you get frustrated with a shipmate, take a step back and see them from a different perspective.  Remember they are someone’s brother, sister, son, daughter, father, mother.  Just because they do something differently doesn’t mean it’s not right.  When we get to know the people we work with we can better understand what motivates them, what frustrates them, and where they get their perspective.  The best part about the Navy is that we are a mixing bowl of people from all different backgrounds and experiences and each one of us brings a different perspective to the table.

The Navy may be about powerful warships, fighter planes, fast attack submarines and missile launches but in the end we are just defending our country.  We, the people, are protecting the people.  We all, from our own families, protecting families, and now part of another family – USS BENFOLD.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Life is short.  Take advantage of the time.  Appreciate your surroundings.  Get to know the people you work with.  Give everyone a chance.  Consider the other perspective.

 

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

ATHENA Project Showcase: E2E

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E2E, or Ensigns To Ensigns, was presented at the very first Athena event (then called WikiWardroom) at Basic Pizza in San Diego.

LTJG Isaac Chase developed the concept of E2E because he felt that something was missing between the training that young officers get at the Basic Division Officer Course and the knowledge they are expected to have when they are filling a Division Officer job onboard their first ship.

LTJG Chase presented the concept as a way for more senior Division Officers to increase their level of knowledge by training brand new Ensigns in seminar-based sessions, rotating amongst participating ships. The junior Ensigns receiving the training would be free to ask whatever they wanted, without having to worry about asking a “dumb question” and losing credibility onboard their own ships.

“As an Ensign trying to learn the ropes, sometimes you miss out on learning something,” LTJG Chase said. “After enough time has passed, you look silly if you ask how to get to a space or how to draft a naval message. E2E solves that.”

The program would cover a different topic at each seminar session, ranging from drafting casualty reports to sharing shiphandling tips to touring engineering spaces.

BENFOLD Surface Warfare Officers training in a ship simulator.

BENFOLD Surface Warfare Officers training in a ship simulator.

USS BENFOLD hosted the first E2E session in August, bringing on officers from Amphibious Ships to teach them about the Aegis Weapons System as they prepared for their Surface Warfare Officer qualification boards.

“They were really grateful, and they all sent me e-mails thanking us after the tour,” LTJG Chase said. “I was like, ‘Hey, this actually works!'”

The next step for E2E was drafting up a topics list and soliciting for other ships that wanted to participate. LTJG Chase put a schedule together and shipped it out to BENFOLD’s Destroyer Squadron to get the ball rolling.

LTJG Chase intends to host another E2E session onboard BENFOLD next month on the topic of shipyard coordination and the completion of work in a complex Selected Restricted Availability (SRA) environment. BENFOLD is a prime host for this topic as the ship is currently berthed in BAE Systems Shipyard receiving an upgrade to her combat systems suite.

“I know I was a bit lost when we started the SRA, and I know I wasn’t alone,” LTJG Chase said. “It’s a normal part of every ship’s life cycle, and it would benefit officers to understand it before their own ships commenced the maintenance phase.”

The more ships that are involved in the E2E process the better, and LTJG Chase is always on the lookout for networking between Surface platforms. As E2E grows, so does the overall level of knowledge of the Fleet’s young leaders.

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