Army holds Innovation Day to turn pitches into prototypes
By Nancy Jones-Bonbrest
MCLEAN, VA (September 18, 2019) -- In rapid succession, 41 different companies - small, medium, large and non-traditional - pitched new ideas to Army leaders, showing off their most promising technology during the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office Innovation Day on Sept. 17.
This fast-tracking of ideas to prototypes is exactly what the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) had in mind for the first, of what will become regular, Innovation Days, this one held in McLean, Va. Future such events will take place in other locations throughout the country.
Spanning topics as diverse as artificial intelligence, battlefield communications, unmanned aerial systems, platform assurance, and cyber, the pitches will now be narrowed down to the most promising efforts to rapidly prototype and deliver to Soldiers.
In a few weeks, those that made it through the "shark tank" style event are expected to have formal contracts in hand.
Panel members and subject matter experts (SMEs) were pulled from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and. Technology, Army G-3/5/7, Army Futures Command, Cross Functional Teams (CFTs), Program Executive Offices (PEOs), Army Cyber Command, and Army Centers of Excellence. A senior level RCCTO representative and contracting official also participated on each panel.
"Technology is progressing at unprecedented speed, and we need to position the Army to deliver the most innovative capabilities to Soldiers," said Lt. Gen. L. Neil Thurgood, director of Hypersonics, Directed Energy, Space and Rapid Acquisition, which includes leading the RCCTO. "To stay on top of emerging technology, we need regular Innovation Days where we can meet with potential partners, have decision makers in the room, and find a way to quickly transfer the best technology into prototypes with residual combat capability."
Using the "pitch-to-prototype" approach means that the technology discussed this week could end up in the hands of Soldiers within one to three years or faster, quickening the pace of delivering prototypes into an operational unit for immediate feedback and refinement.
The straight-forward Innovation Day process brought companies in for a 20-minute pitch to panel members and SMEs. Potential partners were then asked to leave for a quick discussion among the experts, who then brought the companies back in the room to deliver immediate feedback so the company left Innovation Day knowing either: the pitch had promise and it would be considered further; or it was a good idea but wasn't currently feasible for the RCCTO to prototype.
However, because of the broad Army representation on the panels, if the technology didn't fit with the RCCTO mission set, it could potentially still be linked with the appropriate PEO, CFT or with the Combat Capabilities Development Command.
"This served as a great kick-off to what will become a reoccurring event," said Rob Monto, who led the planning and design of the event and serves as director of the RCCTO's Advanced Concepts and Experimentation Project Office. "We are excited to begin turning what we saw today into prototypes that will make a difference for Soldiers immediately, while also connecting with so many individual companies to see what technology they consider most promising."
To qualify to participate in the first Innovation Day, companies responded to the call for White Paper submissions under the RCCTO Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). Technical experts and Contracting officials evaluated each and invited the top entries to pitch the idea. The criteria panel members used in rating the pitches consisted of: the overall scientific and/or technical merits of the proposal; the potential contributions of the effort to the Army mission; schedule; and whether the proposed cost or price is realistic and affordable for the proposed technical approach.
Next, the RCCTO will request full proposals that details the approach for the concept pitched at Innovation Day. The BAA encompasses a broad scope of technology areas of interest and enables the awards through various acquisition mechanisms, such as contracts, grants, agreements and Other Transaction Authority agreements.
The next Innovation Day is targeted for early next year with a Request For Information (RFI) to be posted to Federal Business Opportunities.