Combat Feeding Directorate looks for innovation through 'hackathon'
June 27, 2013
- "This project, the hackathon, came about because we wanted to develop a Combat Ration nutrition website."
NATICK, Mass. (June 27, 2013) -- The U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center's Combat Feeding Directorate has signed a partnership intermediary agreement with Boston's hack/reduce, which will hold the first-ever mobile data "hackathon" with Department of Defense data.
The Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, or NSRDEC, and the Combat Feeding Directorate, or CFD, hope that the outcome of the 24-hour event, which starts June 28, at 6 p.m., will be a mobile application that can be utilized to display nutritional data for combat rations in a user-friendly way.
"This project, the hackathon, came about because we wanted to develop a Combat Ration nutrition website," said Julie Smith, a senior food technologist with the CFD. "We get a lot of inquiries from military dietitians, service representatives, warfighters, and a number of different individuals looking for information on the Meal, Ready-to-Eat; First Strike Ration®; Meal, Cold Weather; and Food Packet, Long Range Patrol."
While people may have questions about the nutritional makeup of the ration systems, CFD has found that there is a lot of incomplete information on the Internet from other sources and that the information is often inaccurate.
"We're hoping that by developing this mobile application, this will help lead our consumers to the correct information and hopefully decrease the number of external inquiries we have to respond to," Smith said.
Smith discussed app possibilities, like a scenario where "a military dietitian would utilize the nutrition information available within the website and app to help a warfighter identify ration components that would be appropriate for performance fueling."
The dietitian would be able to identify ration components that meet the warfighter's nutritional needs before, during and after missions, as well as refueling for the next mission.
"We want it to be interesting and engaging for the warfighter to use, so it would be great if they could enter food items and see how they are meeting their nutritional goals," Smith said. "Maybe there could be a tool to help them meet their minimum caloric requirements so that they don't lose weight during field training exercises or deployments."
The Ration Analysis System, a Web-based database built by CFD in collaboration with the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, helps CFD plan their menus, which are reviewed and approved each year by the Chief Dietitian of the Army, as directed by the Office of the Surgeon General. The nutritional information that is utilized for menu planning includes chemical analysis of ration components that are currently in procurement. Chemical analysis is very expensive, thus the collection of data for all ration components spans several years due to funding restrictions.
Currently, there are more than 775 records of data that will be utilized during the hackathon. This data consists of more than 30 nutrients including calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate, dietary fiber and a number of vitamins and minerals. This nutritional information can be found on the nutrition fact labels on every single component; however, you only have access to the nutrition information when you are consuming it. Therefore, without that specific label, it is tough to access information unless the user consults the CFD.
"At Combat Feeding we're not app developers, so how can we make it cool and interactive, such that the user actually wants to use it? You can put a website out there, but you need to make it fun in order for people to repeatedly use it," Smith said.
That is where Michael Brown, DOD Science, Mathematics and Research for Transformation Scholar and project lead for the hackathon came in. Brown saw the challenge that CFD faced in regards to transferring this important information to end-users and sought an innovative solution.
"There are dozens of opportunities for innovating with local partners," Brown said. "I'm interested in tapping into Boston's Innovation Economy and working with them to support the warfighter."
The opportunity for participation in the first-ever event of this caliber also includes major perks like monetary prizes. First-place winners will receive $3,000, second prize $2,000, and third prize $1,000. These prizes are made possible thanks to sponsors.
Plus, this specific hackathon event promotes synergy, as shown in its partial funding by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and Mass Development, both members of the Natick Soldier Systems Center's Science and Technology Board.
Smith hopes that the event will "provide nutrition education to warfighters and a valuable mission-planning tool to increase their performance."
As the warfighter continues to transition and change with the times, so, too, does the technology that needs to be utilized to assist each and every warfighter. This is the first time the DOD has utilized an opportunity with hack/reduce, and other hack companies are willing and interested to work with government organizations. The success of this event may be followed by further use of companies such as hack/reduce in order to solve technologically challenging problems in support of Soldiers.
If interested in learning more about this particular event at hack/reduce (located at 275 Third Street, Kendall Square, Cambridge, Mass.), please call (617) 974-3593. Anyone interested in sponsorships, judging, speaking, or any other hack/reduce inquiries, please contact Adrienne Cochrane, hack/reduce Executive Director at firstname.lastname@example.org.
NSRDEC is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to develop technology and engineering solutions for America's Soldiers.
RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command. AMC is the Army's premier provider of materiel readiness -- technology, acquisition support, materiel development, logistics power projection, and sustainment -- to the total force, across the spectrum of joint military operations. If a Soldier shoots it, drives it, flies it, wears it, eats it or communicates with it, AMC provides it.