Digital Pentagon – Defense AT&L Magazine

Thanks to DAU for publishing Digital Pentagon in the Nov/Dec edition of Defense AT&L Magazine.

Digital PentagonThe time has come for the Pentagon to retire its Industrial Age management model and invent a radically new approach for the Digital Age. The Department of Defense (DoD) faces an increasingly complex operational environment at a time of decreasing defense budgets. The DoD would yield better results if it harnessed its strategic initiatives to enabling innovation instead of strict cost-cutting measures. The enterprise that more than 40 years ago helped invent the Internet for research and development collaboration must leverage the Web as a platform to network its acquisition workforce. See the full article in Defense AT&L Magazine.

The Air Force Collaboratory

The Air Force has launched a great new website, The Air Force Collaboratory, designed to crowdsource solutions to research projects.  As noted in an FCW article: “The first-level purpose of the site is to involve young people, in a collaborative way, in dealing with a tough technical challenge for the government.  This is not a contest; there are no prizes.  Instead, the site appeals both to a desire to excel and a desire to serve, both important themes for the Air Force.”

Its first three projects include:

  • Search and Rescue 2.0 – Develop new technologies through rapid prototyping to save lives trapped in collapsed structures
  • Mind of a Quadrotor – Build a system that allows a quadrotor to navigate its surroundings with minimal human interaction
  • Launch of GPS IIF – Target the precise coordinates within the GPS Constellation to launch our newest GPS satellite.

Kudos to the Air Force for leaning forward with another digital collaboration site reaching beyond its traditional enterprise.

Expectations of Intelligence in the Information Age

Lt Gen Michael Flynn DIA DirectorThe digital information revolution has handed the U.S. intelligence community a slew of new challenges that are nowhere close to resolution, a new study says.  The 21st-century problems range from mountains of data to accelerated pace of change to competing information flow from nongovernmental sources to fears of violating privacy and civil liberties, according to a paper “Expectations of Intelligence in the Information Age”  See GovExec article for highlights.

Decision makers will expect the Intelligence Community to validate and meld their information with that available in open source.

Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet

In this new age of networked intelligence, collaborative communities are enhancing and even bypassing crumbling institutions. We are innovating the way our financial institutions and governments operate; how we educate our children; how the healthcare, newspaper, and energy industries serve their customers; how we care for our neighbourhoods: and even how we solve global problems.

From their latest book, Macrowikinomics: New Solutions for a Connected Planet, co-authors Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams present groundbreaking innovations from every corner of the globe: how businesses, organizations, and individuals alike are using mass collaboration to revolutionize not only the way we work, but how we live, learn, create, and care for each other.

Jennifer Pahlka: Coding a Better Government

Jennifer Pahlka of Code for America has a brilliant TED discussion. Can government be run like the Internet, permissionless and open? Coder and activist Jennifer Pahlka believes it can — and that apps, built quickly and cheaply, are a powerful new way to connect citizens to their governments — and their neighbors.

DARPA Crowdsourcing Weapon System Manufacturing

The NY Times has an interesting story on Pentagon Pushes Crowdsourced Manufacturing.

Designing and building things for the US military is a notoriously slow-moving and costly endeavor. The time from idea to manufacturing for a new armored personnel carrier or a tank is typically 10 to 20 years.  DARPA wants to change that, and drastically so. It seeks to cut the design-to-production cycle  to  two to four years. So how are they going to do it? Crowdsourcing and prize contests are crucial ingredients in the speed-up recipe.

The crowdsourcing effort will rely on a software initiative, called Vehicleforge.net, which will be a Web portal for gathering, sharing and testing ideas.

G.E. Research

DARPA, a government-sponsored research program, has enlisted scientists from the Georgia Tech Research Institute, Vanderbilt University, University of Pennsylvania, and a team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and General Electric. The work is getting under way in earnest now, with the first of three prize challenges scheduled for next year.

G.E.’s research arm announced its collaboration with M.I.T. on Thursday. Earlier in the week, researchers from the company, M.I.T. and the Pentagon agency, Darpa, discussed the project and its potential significance for the military and beyond.

The near-term target, they said, is to collaborate on a design for an amphibious vehicle for the Marines. The first contest, with a $1M prize, is planned for early next year. It involves mobility and drive-train subsystems for the vehicle. Next, about six months later, will be the design for the chassis and other subsystems, a contest that will carry another $1M prize.

In 2014, there will be a $2M prize for the best design for an entire vehicle. Individuals, small teams and businesses and major defense contractors are welcome to compete and contribute, said Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, a DARPA program manager. The goal, he said, is to “democratize the design process.”

At G.E., the view extends well beyond military vehicles. “This is about changing the paradigm so you can rapidly design and manufacture complex systems of all kinds,” said Joseph Salvo, manager of the business integration technologies lab at G.E. Research. If successful, the approach could have a big impact on G.E., the nation’s largest manufacturer of industrial equipment, including jet engines, power generators and diagnostic medical devices.

Crowdsourced software design, of course, is old hat. That is the open-source model that gave us the Linux operating system and the Apache Web server years ago.  But what is different about the Vehicleforge.net project is that it is essentially a software “engine” that contributors use to plug in simulated components. Then, the new part or subsystem can be tested, virtually.

“You attach these simulation services to explore the behavior of complex systems,” explained David R. Wallace, a professor of mechanical engineering at M.I.T. “That allows you to predict problems earlier to get a better design faster.”  There are plenty of software simulation tools used in manufacturing. It is a niche industry — computer-aided design. But the software is often difficult to use and expensive, so mainly big companies use them.

The Vehicleforge.net program, Dr. Wallace said, will allow solo inventors or small teams to tap into those capabilities. A vehicle body and chassis design, submitted as code, could be plugged into the Vehicleforge.net platform and tested for aerodynamics by in a virtual wind tunnel, for example. “The design models all hook up together,” Dr. Wallace said. “It’s an emergent way to design complex systems.”