Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD— As the U.S. Army continuously looks for ways to innovate and modernize, the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Analysis Center, known as DAC, has taken a grassroots approach. By piloting their unique Innovation Program in 2020, DAC is encouraging the workforce to come together to solve challenges in creative ways, while redefining success as learning, experimenting and thinking outside of the box.
To celebrate the Innovation Program’s second year, DAC hosted an interactive showcase for the workforce on Sept. 8 to learn more about the program’s current projects and their progress, applications, impacts and next steps. This cohort’s project leads have worked up to 20 percent of their time on their projects since last November, while continuously collaborating with technical mentors to develop projects as needed and connect with other experts across the organization. Each year, there is a culminating showcase to share project insights with both colleagues and organizational leadership. A virtual Microsoft Teams session was also opened to the workforce so remote locations could participate.
“All DEVCOM Centers could benefit from this format of getting new ideas from the ground up,” said DEVCOM Chief Technical Officer, Charneta Samms, when visiting the showcase. “We live in such a risk averse culture, but true innovation is happening here and now. It’s so important to make space for this kind of effort, and programs that value celebrating new ways of seeing things, doing things, and then coming together to share that work with others… If I could invest in something, this is it.”
Inspired by Army studies programs, corporate innovation programs of Google and W.L. Gore, and other military innovation programs, Andrew Barnett, Innovation Program Chair, designed the program to reinforce the passion and expertise of DAC’s workforce. “We have a team of problem-solvers that are proud of the crucial mission we have. This program empowers them to enact change where they see it’s needed.”
Described as “flexible,” “accessible,” and “inspiring” by various technical mentors, the Innovation Program underscores cross-organizational collaboration, while keeping an open dialogue about any barriers that project leads face so that the mentorship panel can help them navigate them, or better yet, break them down.
Projects ranged from a study led by analysts Riannon Hazell and Peter Grazaitis to uncover potential ways to improve Army vehicles’ preventive maintenance checks and services process— which may improve operator and mechanic morale, motivation, performance and readiness— to a proof-of-concept to better understand the effectiveness of using a swarm of drones to obstruct and degrade the performance of an AI-enabled target recognition system. During presentations to DAC Director Patrick O’Neill and DAC Civilian Deputy Stephanie Koch, video stream footage collected by electrical engineer Alejandro Gongora and AI expert Jose Lopez of a fleet of simulated drones injected into a target scene showed interesting findings; what was once registered confidently as a pickup truck by the target recognition system was deduced to a tow truck, cannon, even a dumbbell.
Additional projects included a Motor Pool Information Kiosk from DAC’s Thomas Nyland and Christopher Rowe—a centrally located accessible screen that provides motor pool managers with actionable vehicle health information to inform decisions that promote effective maintenance results— and a toolset to optimize Army system designs and requirements to better explore assumptions, parameters, performance metrics and tradeoffs to develop quantitative guidance. Project leads for both the Motor Pool Information Kiosk and the latter, dubbed the Human Systems Integration Metric Tradespace Exploration Environment, or HMTee, developed by DAC’s Christopher Garneau, encouraged DAC colleagues to interact with the tools themselves and explore their interfaces.
At the end of the showcase, Barnett and DAC Chief Scientist Thomas Stadterman handed out coins to project leads and the mentorship panel for their innovative work.
The innovation doesn’t cease after the showcase. Many projects from last fiscal year have continued to evolve. A web application for developmental and professional opportunities, pitched and developed by analyst Ryan Barker, has now been implemented into DAC’s own intra-organizational web portal. Augmented reality network visualization software that gives users an intuitive, real-time view of data flows, born from cybersecurity analyst Carlos Natividad in FY21, has continued development. Steve Webb’s multi-domain operations technician’s backpack— a collection of diagnostic tools to properly diagnose and repair vehicles for minimal cost and manpower— continues to receive funding and stir endorsement from leadership.
For the upcoming fiscal year, the Innovation Program panel is now reviewing submissions to select funded projects. “We’re looking for ideas that can benefit DAC, the Army Futures Command, the warfighter,” said Barnett. He lends the comparison of Shark Tank, “but friendlier.”
For more photos of the event, go to DAC’s Flickr, https://flickr.com/photos/ccdcdac/.
The DEVCOM Analysis Center is one of DEVCOM’s eight science and technology centers. The U.S. Army’s largest in-house analytical capability, DAC delivers objective analysis, experimentation and data to ensure readiness and inform modernization decisions.