ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md., April 27, 2011 -- U.S. Army power and energy experts are leveraging a secure, "Facebook-like" social media forum to gather direct Soldier feedback that will be used to develop tactical power solutions that can be fielded within the next two years.
Engineers from the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command's communications-electronics center, or CERDEC, have created the "Power Sources Feedback" user group on milBook, so Warfighters can share frank observations and recommendations directly with CERDEC Army Power as it prepares to host the Joint Services Power Expo, May 2-5, 2011 at the Myrtle Beach, S.C., Convention Center.
The Joint Services Power Expo, or JSPE, is a bi-annual event that brings together warfighters, decision-makers and technical experts from across the services, other government agencies, industry and academia to identify current solutions and to develop short-term solutions for warfighters' portable power needs.
The workshops will address the latest developments in batteries, generators, fuel cells, micro-grids, renewable energy, hybrid systems, on-board vehicle power, garrison energy, power for remote locations and others.
The goal is to have warfighters present their problems to industry and government experts who then work in small group sessions with the DoD Research and Development community to develop solutions that may not be in the inventory, said Marc Gietter, event project lead for CERDEC Army Power.
Warfighter attendance has been sporadic throughout JSPE's 14 years, making it difficult to obtain valuable feedback. As a result, the structure of the expo has changed to sessions where experts share their latest work and research.
While the expo still aids in the development of solutions, it's not the force multiplier it could be, Gietter said.
"It would be far more beneficial to everyone if we had a warfighter explaining how and why he would or would not use a fuel cell. We need to have the sessions devoted to the 'because' portion of a warfighter's response," Gietter said.
"However, we understand that most of our warfighters don't have time to attend; they're in theater, preparing to go into theater or just returning from theater and want to spend time with their families," Gietter said.
"That's why we've set up a feedback site on milBook that's secure, real-time and can be accessed from anywhere. If they'll use the site to tell us the problems, we can still tackle the issues in the working groups," he continued.
Current or previously-deployed Soldiers of all rank are encouraged to provide honest feedback so that the "right" changes are made that will best support mission needs.
"I've found that when you're talking to the actual user, the Soldier down the line, they're very open. But if you talk to that same Soldier while his leadership in the room, he clams up and doesn't tell you anything," said Rafael Casanova, CERDEC Army Power battery support team leader.
"We want to establish a one-on-one relationship, and we're looking for Soldiers who can talk to us honestly about what doesn't work. It's the Soldier's opportunity to directly affect change," Casanova said.
Soldier input is especially important in the field of power and energy because, unlike many systems in the acquisition cycle, power technologies are not developed by or attached to a product manager. Therefore, there are no standardized specifications or a built-in feedback loop.
"Just because you don't hear anything, it doesn't mean you've been successful - it just means that no one's talking to you," Gietter said. "User acceptance is critical to what we do. If you just try to ram a design down somebody's throat, they're never going to take it out of the box."
"We need to know what they like and don't like about the technology so we can make the necessary adjustments," he said.
Army Power engineers are seeking input regarding design, functionality, need, suggested improvements and units standard operating procedures.
"We know that the Soldier wants smaller, lighter batteries and generators that require less maintenance. We've got that. But we need to know the interface issues," Gietter said.
"How was the battery charger' Does it make sense to include a certain feature' What design changes need to be made' What does your particular mission require' How is your unit using this technology' Do you have to throw away a battery after one use because your unit's SOP says you have to take a fresh one every time you go into the field," Gietter said.
Even if Soldiers are unable to post comments until after the expo, they are encouraged to use the site. Army Power engineers are optimistic that it can be a tool to generate and sustain direct communication with and among warfighters.
"If we started getting feedback from the field that resulted in design changes or corrective actions being implemented, that's a positive thing. And if the field begin talking among themselves to dispel urban legends or to discuss their power issues and how they solved them, that would be a great outcome," Gietter said.
"We want to get people talking in case there's a way they can help each other. Even if a guy's pissed off at a battery for that day, it would be nice to know because he might not be the only one having the problem," Gietter continued.
The milBook platform is open to all Department of Defense military and civilian common access cardholders. Soldiers with a milBook account can post recommendations and insights at http://go.usa.gov/b1S, or sign up for an account by accessing the same link.
For more information regarding CERDEC Army Power or power sources currently in the Army supply chain, visit www.cerdec.army.mil/c2d/armypower, join milBook, or email questions to email@example.com.