WASHINGTON – As the U.S. Army marches toward its goal to transform into a multi-domain force by 2035, the service’s premier prize competition program is launching another opportunity for industry to lend their innovative technologies to the cause.
The Army xTech Program announced its seventh iteration of xTechSearch, the program’s first and longest-running competition that awards small businesses and non-traditional technology providers with cash prizes for their transformative, dual-use technology solutions.
In celebration of the launch of xTechSearch 7, here’s a look at the competition’s history and successes, and how this open call for innovation has propelled Army readiness and modernization.
How it started
The Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology launched the xTech Program and its inaugural competition series, xTechSearch, in 2018 as the first Army prize competition to award cash prizes to small and non-traditional businesses for their innovative solutions.
“The competition started as a mechanism within the Army to attract small, innovative companies to want to work with the Army,” said Dr. Matt Willis, director of Army prize competitions and the Army Applied SBIR Program. “A challenge the Army faces is that we don’t know the full spectrum of different technologies that are out there,” Willis said. “The program captured this unmet potential and lowered the barriers for small businesses to work with the Army.”
The competition gained popularity with small businesses by offering benefits that complement their business models. Notably, the program eliminates the need for businesses to use their own capital to engage with the Army. Other benefits include an invitation to participate in the xTech Accelerator, which provides finalists the opportunity to introduce their technologies to key personnel and receive guidance on navigating business development in the Army ecosystem.
xTechSearch competitors can advance through various phases of the competition, earning significant cash prizes — which can be upwards of $350,000 — along the way. In addition, the competition now offers Small Business Innovation Research contract awards for businesses to further develop their innovations. xTechSearch 6, which wrapped up in May 2022, was the first xTechSearch competition to award Phase I SBIR contracts to winners in addition to cash prizes. Winners of xTechSearch 7 will also be invited to submit for Phase I SBIR contracts of up to $250,000 each to help small businesses stay engaged with the Army as they continue to develop their technologies.
The strong foundation of xTechSearch has helped the program expand to include topic-focused competitions, which allow the Army to uncover a variety of solutions that can solve specific problems. With a large range of submissions relevant to a single topic, the Army can select and award the solutions that best meet its needs. In the spring of 2020, xTech launched both the energy-focused Innovation Combine and the COVID-19 Ventilator Challenge. Since then, the program has continued to build on its repertoire of competitions that aim to solve specific Army challenges.
Where it’s going
The impact of xTechSearch is boundless as the series continues to offer solutions to top Army priorities. The first six xTechSearch iterations have brought novel innovations to the Army under a vast umbrella of priorities, including the future of vertical lift; long-range rocket fuel; advanced medical care; assured position, navigation and timing; Soldier lethality and much more.
Willis said that xTechSearch will continue to grow beyond the seventh iteration, while also expanding the footprint to mission-specific competitions.
“xTech has the ability to impact many different facets of Army modernization, from fundamental lab research and advanced development and testing to deployment and sustainment,” Willis said. “There are opportunities across the spectrum of the Army in terms of where small and non-traditional businesses can inject their innovative ideas and technologies.”
To date, the xTech Program has evaluated over 3,000 different technologies that could support Army systems and provided more than $15 million in cash prizes and more than $75 million in follow-on SBIR contracts, with the goal of including the technology in an Army acquisition program that will get it into the hands of Soldiers.
What people are saying
In five years of xTechSearch competitions, many participants have experienced the fruits of the program and serve as testaments of what successful partnership with the Army looks like.
Lumineye, winner of xTechSearch 2 in 2019, is targeting both commercial and military customers with their technology – a compact, lightweight sensor designed to allow first responders and military personnel to sense through walls for greater situational awareness prior to entering a dangerous building or room.
Megan Lacy, CEO and co-founder, shared that Lumineye has been awarded several government contracts since their xTechSearch win, including with the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Air Force. In addition, the business is making headway in the non-federal space by developing a fully manufacturable product for first responders.
“The non-diluted funding from our xTechSearch win was a positive signal to early-stage investors,” Lacy said. “As a hardware company, we can’t just produce and test a prototype
overnight, but we were able to use that funding as a springboard to continue developing our technology.”
Syncopated Engineering was a finalist in xTechSearch 3 in September 2020 with their Mockingbird product, a radio frequency signal emulator that can mimic other RF systems. As a result, the Mockingbird can confuse and deceive adversaries at a fraction of the cost of the system being emulated.
CEO and founder, Jim Costabile, shared that xTechSearch helped form a partnership with the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Army Research Laboratory to complete outdoor testing of cognitive radar equipment and demonstrate how the Mockingbird can maneuver around radio interferences. The Special Operations Command has also jumped on the Mockingbird technology, and the business is in the process of customizing the technology to meet their needs.
“xTechSearch helped us understand the technology from a broader customer perspective and build a system that the military wants, not what we want,” Costabile said. “Partnerships with ARL and SOCOM have helped us take off from an Army perspective.”
Bounce Imaging, a finalist in xTechSearch 4, developed a ruggedized, throwable, tactical camera that is the size of a baseball, weighs under a pound, is reusable and has six fish-eye lenses that offer 360-degree video of surroundings and two-way audio. Tactical units can throw the camera into a room or over a barricade to gain situational awareness to conduct reconnaissance, while rescue units can deploy the camera to assess threats for successful personnel recoveries. For the Army, the camera is also compatible with the Android Tactical Assault Kit, which allows videos to be instantly transmitted to end-user devices and viewed remotely by multiple Soldiers at the same time.
Since participating in xTechSearch, Bounce Imaging has deployed their device across SOCOM, with 400 cameras currently being used in the field during training and combat operations. The business is also participating in the Army’s 10x Platoon Experiment, during which the best prototype solutions related to robotics, artificial intelligence and more emerging technologies will be evaluated and down-selected for further Army investment.
“Utilizing resources like xTech have been quite necessary to navigate the Army and get our product into the hands of Soldiers,” said Lauren Baynes, vice president of operations.
Since 2018, xTech has grown its reputation among non-traditional innovators and Army partners as a source of novel technologies that will modernize the force’s readiness and sustainment capabilities. xTechSearch 7, and other competitions planned for 2023 and beyond, are testament to the value of the program and its status as catalyst of Army innovation.
The xTech Program holds several competitions per year, from open-topic competitions such as xTechSearch, to technology-specific competitions targeting specific Army needs and challenges. For all competition information, go to https://www.xtechsearch.army.mil/.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology provides the American Soldier with a decisive advantage in any mission by developing, acquiring, fielding and sustaining the world's finest equipment and services, and by leveraging technologies and capabilities to meet current and future Army needs.