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US Navy Offers Look at Disruptive Technologies Lab

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Inside NSWC Carderock Division’s Disruptive Technologies Lab

(Source: Naval Sea System Command; issued March 8, 2016)


WEST BETHESDA, Md. --- The U.S. Navy faces innumerable obstacles every day as it carries out its mission. Scientists and engineers at Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division are charged with helping to solve them so the fleet is ready with the latest capabilities and technologies when and where it needs to be.

To meet the challenge of combatting disruptive threats and realizing ever-changing operational demands, the Department of Defense (DoD) and Navy leadership are driving the Navy laboratory infrastructure to get new and innovative technologies into the hands of warfighters and maintainers quicker than ever. Carderock Division has taken a unique approach to this goal: to create a Disruptive Technologies Laboratory (DTL) and charge it with generating ideas and solutions for the fleet and take them from concept to reality.

The DTL thrives on the premise that great ideas are not just random events – by putting together innovators in a nurturing environment, one that facilitates thought and is not hindered by historical paradigm, ideas can be predictably generated. Bringing those ideas to fruition and displacing the old solution with the new one in the marketplace is the bread and butter of the DTL. At Carderock, the DTL works to make innovative successes achievable, not onerous. The DTL premise is to move good ideas forward into the fleet.

“Innovation isn’t happenstance when you create the right environment. With persistent contact with new knowledge, it becomes predictable that you’ll have innovative events,” said Garry Shields, the lab’s director. “That’s what the Disruptive Technology Lab is doing – creating a sustainable innovation engine.” This innovation engine functions as an incubator for new ideas as part of fostering a culture of innovation.

The lab was formed several years ago when a group of Carderock employees was asked to look at the role of robotics in ship systems. Originally called the “Intelligent Mobile Machines Office,” this group came up with the idea to assess the exoskeleton technology, a human augmentation system designed to lighten the load of those who do manual work – for example, sanding or blasting a ship hull overhead or spray painting a wall. The commercially available “exoskeleton” has significant impacts on the Navy waterfront shipyard community as its applications are evaluated – there will likely never again be humans having to perform such roles in an unaugmented manner in the future.

Following the success of the exoskeleton project, the group was next asked to study what kind of applications they would consider viable if given access to a submarine payload module. While there were many options to put in the payload module, they chose to explore the possibility of putting energy sources on board. A military effectiveness analysis showed that by providing these energy sources as a payload dispersed from the submarine module, that newly available energy would increase the endurance of unmanned vehicles operating in the area. Currently, unmanned systems are required to carry their energy organically in order have the persistence and endurance required for their missions.

The energy needs force unmanned systems to scale up in size and complexity to meet mission requirements. The team’s concept is to make energy readily available where and when it is needed by strategically placing energy reserves in strategic locations for vehicle use. This concept increases persistence and endurance while reducing the complexity and cost of unmanned systems. Without unmanned vehicles needing to carry all their own energy to meet mission requirements, this concept could change the nature of unmanned systems presence in the warfighting portfolio.

The DTL has worked on several other success stories that are transitioning to the warfighter and the marketplace. One such technology is a demonstration of an optical periscope detection and discrimination capability that complements radar techniques and results in high probability of overall detection with zero false alarms, providing a scalable, modularized and platform-independent surface ship periscope detection and discrimination capability.

Another example is the Unmanned Vehicles (UXV) Digital Manufacturing (DM) Massive Multiplayer Online War-game Leveraging the Internet (MMOWGLI). MMOWGLI is a collaboration environment that allows team participants to leverage crowd-sourcing approaches to highlight and discuss new and existing technologies for idea generation, and push them forward to obtain an optimal and achievable solution. This project will allow the Navy to respond to future UXV challenges; position the Navy to harness UXV DM technologies through a series of action plans; and develop new methods of pushing knowledge to Navy engineers.

Further, it will build a roadmap toward Digital to Done where design, simulation, testing and production are performed digitally thereby increasing efficiency, minimizing duplication of tasks and allowing for design flexibility that embraces digital manufacturing technologies. This supports the Secretary of the Navy Task Force Innovation (TFI) initiative to move towards virtual design environments.

Over the last four years, the DTL has hosted weekly meetings. Speakers are invited to discuss topics ranging across the technology spectrum. The speakers may be local subject matter experts, or academic or industry experts inside and outside the Navy. Following these meetings, participants are challenged to form groups and examine the social, political, technical and entrepreneurial implications of each topic.

“Through roundtable discussions and weekly presentations the DTL exposes its members to new ideas, technologies, processes and methods of solving known and unknown technical problems,” said Harry Whittaker, a participant in the DTL collaboratory. “Carderock employees participating in the DTL are enabled to take back what they've learned to their technical codes.”

The team comprising the DTL is unique in its own right. It is not limited to senior experts and specialists but rather people who think outside the traditional box are especially welcomed in the collaboratory. The group is non-traditional; it uses a “non-structured” environment. It functions as a web of people interconnected across the technical community with direct access to each other instead of a traditional top-down vertically aligned structure like much of the Navy. Recently the group has been using milSuite, a DoD suite of secure collaboration and networking tools that mirror social media platforms like Facebook and Wikipedia to foster collaboration and sharing.

Most recently, Shields and his staff have reached outside Carderock Division across the warfare centers and the Naval Research Enterprise to form a Disruptive Technology Lab “Enterprise” (DTLe). There are now regular meetings, teleconferences and brain-storming sessions that include participation from organizations including NSWC Panama City, Naval Undersea Warfare Center Newport Division, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, NSWC Philadelphia, Naval Air Systems Command, Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, the Office of Naval Research, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the naval shipyards.

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