U.S. Army gets connectivity boost with the help of xTechSearch winner’s “DUCK” Technology

By Anna Volkwine, Office of Army Prize Competitions and Army Applied SBIR ProgramAugust 4, 2022

The Project OWL team has deployed their DuckLink technology internationally to help regions prepare for and recover from natural disasters. The team recently travelled to Himachal Pradesh in northern India, where 60 solar-powered devices were...
The Project OWL team has deployed their DuckLink technology internationally to help regions prepare for and recover from natural disasters. The team recently travelled to Himachal Pradesh in northern India, where 60 solar-powered devices were installed to keep communications alive for a community susceptible to natural disasters. (Photo courtesy of Project OWL) (Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

WASHINGTON – Project OWL is putting their ducks to work for the U.S. Army.

The small business won the Army’s xTechSearch 5 prize competition with the DuckLink, its revolutionary communications tool that offers a networking solution when traditional infrastructures are off the grid. For the Army, this means Soldiers can stay connected in degraded environments.

How a duck can work for the Army

The DUCK – which stands for Deployable Ubiquitous Connectivity Kit – consists of multiple DuckLinks, which is Project OWL’s base hardware unit and an Internet-of-Things WiFi device that connects to consumer electronics as part of the ClusterDuck network. When connectivity is unreliable or unavailable, users can communicate with each other via their smartphones or laptops with the same simplicity as connecting to a WiFi network.

Project OWL, headquartered in Brooklyn, New York, can customize the DuckLink to meet variable Army needs, such as a handheld networking device in a Soldier’s kit or a larger platform, like a sensor used for perimeter security. The DuckLink is always encrypted and has customizable channels. The data flows up to the OWL Data Management System, which allows supervisors to track situations in real time.

“The DuckLink integrates with Army technologies to provide a robust solution that doesn’t necessitate replacement of other solutions but can compound the value and improve what’s already out in the field,” said Bryan Knouse, Project OWL co-founder and CEO.

How xTechSearch and the xTech Accelerator propelled Project OWL

xTechSearch is a competition led by the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology for small businesses to solve critical mission challenges by using science and technology innovations.

In 2021, Project OWL was the grand prize winner of the Army’s xTechSearch 5 competition for the DuckLink’s ability to deploy secure, reliable and wireless communications when Soldiers need it most.

In addition to earning a cash prize of $380,000, Project OWL had the opportunity to participate in the xTech Accelerator program, which aims to speed the transition of technologies into the Army by guiding selected companies through the Army acquisition process and introducing them to Army stakeholders who can guide them to the finish line.

As a result of xTechSearch and the xTech Accelerator, Knouse noted that the company has several upcoming major endeavors, including a partnership with Raytheon Intelligence and Space to integrate the DuckLink into the Army Tactical Assault Kit, a widely used situation awareness platform for Soldiers.

“Without the assistance of xTech and the Accelerator program, Project OWL would have a hole in our business development plan,” Knouse said. “Now that hole is filled with some truly wonderful relationships.”

In addition to work with Raytheon, Project OWL is exploring other opportunities with the Army. Following xTechSearch 5, the business was approached by Army personnel to apply the DuckLink as a sensor network, connecting specifically to the Army’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear deterrence units to detect hazardous materials. Knouse noted that the adaptable nature of the DuckLink has provided networking capabilities for multiple use-cases, with more on the way.

A duck that withstands the storm

Project OWL began exploring network technology in 2018 as the winner of IBM’s Call for Code, a hackathon seeking technologies that could help communities prepare for and recover from natural disasters. In the wake of four major U.S. hurricanes – Irma, Maria, Florence and Harvey – Project OWL recognized the need to bring basic communications back to devastated communities; thus, the DuckLink came to fruition. Project OWL currently has nearly 30 solar-powered devices installed across Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria, and later this year will increase their network coverage in the event of future disasters.

In November 2021, the business completed their largest technology deployment in another region prone to natural disasters, installing more than 60 solar-powered devices in Himachal Pradesh in northern India.

Today, Project OWL remains committed to their original mission – natural disaster recovery – while still moving forward in the military space.

“None of us from Project OWL had military experience, and working with the Department of Defense hadn’t even been a conversation,” Knouse said. “Programs like xTech and the Accelerator helped us see potential for alternate applications beyond natural disasters.”

For more on Project OWL, visit their website at www.project-owl.com. To learn more about the xTech and Accelerator Programs, visit www.xtechsearch.army.mil.