Seeker Spotlight: Air Force Research Lab

Posted by Connie French on Mar 30, 2011 10:00:28 AM

Air ForceWe recently announced the new Tec^Edge Innovation pavilion, sponsored by the Wright Brothers Institute (WBI) and the Air Force Research Lab (AFRL).  This pavilion offers a great opportunity for our Solvers to work on issues that face the U.S. Air Force, from topics as diverse as locating a hidden shooter to stopping a runaway vehicle and executing more effective humanitarian air drops.  We recently sat down with Bart Barthelmey, Bob Lee, David Shahady and Emily Riley from AFRL and WBI to find out a bit more about their innovation program.

Hello and thanks for being with us today.  We're very excited that you've chosen to work with InnoCentive and our Solver network. Can you tell us a little more about the Wright Brothers Institute and your relationship with the Air Force?

Bart Barthelmey: The Wright Brothers Institute was created as a non-profit 501(c)3 entity in 2003 to enhance the capabilities of both the Air Force organizations at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and advanced technology academic, industry and government organizations in the Dayton, Ohio Region. Over the past eight years, it has grown steadily and now includes the Tec^Edge Innovation and Collaboration Center, the Tec^Works prototyping laboratory, the Tec^Edge Discovery Lab for challenge project teams, the Tec^Edge IDEA Lab collaborative innovation laboratory and the Tec^Edge Technology Transfer capability. Funding for the Wright Brothers Institute comes from the Air Force Research Laboratory, the State of Ohio and regional development organizations. The main activity of the Wright Brothers Institute is to provide environments and enabling support to multidisciplinary teams as they come together in intense collaborations which focus on complex problems and challenges.

The WBI has a strong history of innovation and collaborative problem solving. What made you choose to work with InnoCentive Solvers for these Challenges?

Bob Lee: Innocentive has run Challenge awards for over 10 years and has as world-wide network of Solvers. Our evaluation team thought this would be important for the first Challenges we conducted for AFRL so that we could connect with as wide an audience as possible to maximize chances of success. We are hoping that a wide spectrum of Solvers will bring a new perspective to these Challenges where we have very limited resources to apply.

You currently have four Challenges posted. How many more Challenges will you be posting and can you tell us a bit more about them?

David Shahady: We are committed to run at least 20 Challenges over the next 2 years. I suspect that if the first ones are successful we will see this as a new tool for AFRL researchers to use. We are currently screening 4 more potential Challenges and I believe that this is just the tip of the iceberg for use of this tool. The next Challenge we are pursuing is to use video data to supplement navigation cues in case of jamming of the GPS signal.

The WRI stimulates innovation solutions to problems that touch public safety needs. Do you foresee that the solutions to these Challenges be applicable in other situations, and if yes, can you elaborate on some situations?

Bob Lee: Often the problems that the military works with are the same problems faced by the public safety sector so there is a lot of synergy and transition potential in all of our Challenges. For example, two of the Challenges would be very important to law enforcement: the vehicle stopper and the shooter locater. In the vehicle stopper problem we are looking for innovative ways to stop a fleeing vehicle without causing damage to the occupants or extensive damage to the vehicle. Stopping someone fleeing a check point would be important to both military or civilian authorities, but there may be good reasons why the person is running so we don’t want to harm them.

What do you see as the future of open innovation in government?

Emily Riley: I think that open innovation award Challenges will grow as a tool leveraged by the government. Open innovation practices are becoming more transparent and accessible to the government and will grow as a mechanism in various agencies for leveraging the world’s knowledge for ideas and solutions.

Thank you for speaking with us today, and giving our Solvers a bit more insight into your organizations.  Good luck with your Challenges.

Topics: Challenges, Seekers

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