Innovation Day in Austin turns good ideas into prototypes
by Nancy Jones-Bonbrest
AUSTIN, Texas (February 27, 2020) -- Established to promote startup technology, the Capital Factory in Austin, Texas, provided the ideal backdrop for the Army’s second Innovation Day last month, which attracted a wide range of capabilities with the goal of accelerating the most promising ideas into prototypes for Soldiers.
Spanning topics as diverse as sensors, autonomy, predictive maintenance, cyber, electronic warfare and quality fueling options, the 38 commercial-style “pitches” heard at Innovation Day on Feb. 11 and 12 were narrowed down from an original list of more than 700 white paper entries. From those presented, 12 will now move forward for concept refinement and possible accelerated contracting to provide prototype capabilities.
“These events intentionally broaden our aperture to capture technologies and concepts from companies of all sizes: small, medium, large, and both traditional and non-traditional industry, as well as academia,” said Marcia Holmes, deputy director of the Army Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO). “The Army is leveraging innovation and quickly transitioning technologies into prototypes, and the RCCTO executes that prototype development in support of the Army's modernization strategy.”
Hosted by the RCCTO in partnership with the Army Futures Command (AFC) and the Army Applications Laboratory (AAL), the event included leaders and subject matter experts from across Army organizations who were grouped based on technology topic to evaluate the pitches. Each company had 20 minutes to present followed by a five minute question and answer session. The engagement ended with an indication from the panel of whether the company would move forward for further consideration of the technology.
Of the companies invited to attend the Innovation Day event in Austin, more than 60 percent were considered non-traditional. For several, it may have been their first time speaking to representatives from the Department of Defense.
“The concept of understanding relationships is paramount in effectively engaging with that non-traditional system and getting away from the traditional transactional relationships,” said COL Len Rosanoff, director of AAL. “We believe that collaboration is key to making sure the Army is modernizing effectively.”
MAJ Brian Owens, a Cyberspace Operations Officer with the 915th Cyber Warfare Battalion, Army Cyber Command, served as a panelist for the cyber-focused pitches and said providing operational feedback before a technology is transitioned into a weapon system is crucial.
“Being in a venue like this, and being able to actually provide insight into what may come to be a new capability that could be fielded, has tremendous value,” Owens said. “To be able to shape it at this early stage, and say ‘This is how we can apply it, this is how we can shape the battlefield,’ if you will, it’s priceless.”
Those concepts not selected for further evaluation by the RCCTO could be considered for application to other organizations, such as the Army Futures Command or Program Executive Offices.
“One of the nice things about Innovation Days is that you might be hearing something that relates to a capability that we're very interested in, but we hadn't thought to ask for in that way,” said Dr. William Cohen, the Chief Technology Officer for the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics, and Technology (ASA(ALT). “Then we can say, ‘We recognize your innovation, and what we want to do is shape it together with our partners in a way that we think our warfighters are actually going to work with.’ And I think that's the power of what we're doing here.”
The intent of the Innovation Days is to allow companies to present new technologies and ideas that reduce near- and mid-term operational risks against near-peer adversaries. If selected by a board of Army leaders, companies may be awarded a contract to develop a prototype and potentially deliver an operational capability to the Army.
This is the second Innovation Day hosted by the RCCTO. The first took place in McLean, Va., late last year and produced 12 independent vendor actions directly contributing to Army stakeholder modernization activities. The first contract from that event was awarded on December 20, 2019, to TRX, a Maryland-based small business that will develop a prototype dismounted electronic warfare kit. Other contracts are expected to be awarded from that first event.