The Navy doubled the size of its “Tech Bridges” network of military, academia and industry problem-solvers, adding six more hubs that will seek to connect warfighters with challenges to those who can help provide a material solution.
In September the Navy kicked off the effort with the first five Tech Bridge locations and added a sixth just months later. Today’s announcement of six more – three in Southern California and three in the District of Columbia-Maryland-Virginia region – will help the effort further develop and share best practices for getting innovative ideas fielded faster.
In contrast to other Navy innovation drives that aim to develop a certain technology or piece of gear, the Tech Bridge innovation program seeks to share lessons learned and best practices among acquisition offices, warfare centers, fleet staffs and more so that each individual office can move faster in identifying, developing and fielding the technology specific to their unique needs.
Cmdr. Sam Gray, the Tech Bridge director, told USNI News during a video conference today that the network had already seen success in “teaching our warfare centers and people that want to move faster how to use some of these new authorities by finding the people who have already done it: who has had success with rapid prototyping? Who has had success with [other transaction authorities]?”
Additionally, he said, having a network of problem-solvers located on both coasts has helped highlight common fleet needs that could be addressed through Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) topic areas, and Tech Bridges has been able to secure $30 million in future SBIR work for topics relevant to multiple Tech Bridges. And, Gray added, small companies working through SBIR or other opportunities can get feedback from fleet operators through the Tech Bridges, helping them ensure that the products they’re working on actually solve the problems that warfighters are facing.
The new Tech Bridges announced today are:
- Capital Tech Bridge in the National Capital Region, led by Krista Michalis from Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Carderock Division. NSWC Dahlgren, NSWC Indian Head Explosive Ordnance Disposal Technology Division and the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab will also partner with Carderock and will focus on digital design, digital manufacturing, digital twin technology, data analytics, machine learning and high-performance computing, among others.
- Central Coast Tech Bridge in Southern California, led by Christopher Manuel at the Naval Postgraduate School. NPS will work with local tech companies, academic institutions and the Lawrence Livermore National Lab to address areas such as unmanned aerial vehicles, cyber, space and oceanography.
- Inland Empire Tech Bridge, led by Troy Clarke at NSWC Corona. This Tech Bridge’s three focus areas are data analytics and visualization; networked data environments, including live, virtual and constructive (LVC) training environments; and measurement technology.
- Mid-Atlantic Tech Bridge, led by Cmdr. Bobby Hanvey at U.S. 2nd Fleet. This Tech Bridge pulls expertise from three warfare centers – NSWC Dahlgren Division Dam Neck Activity, NSWC Carderock Norfolk Detachment, and Naval Information Warfare Center (NIWC) Atlantic Hampton Roads Detachment. It will bring operators from the largest fleet concentration center in the world together with innovators to tackle challenges in the areas of cyber, unmanned systems, additive manufacturing, and artificial intelligence and machine learning.
- Southern Maryland Tech Bridge, led by Rick Tarr of Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division. This Tech Bridge will focus on unmanned aviation, autonomous systems, modeling and simulation and LVC environments.
- Ventura Tech Bridge, led by Alan Jaeger at NSWC Port Hueneme. The three research centers located at Naval Base Ventura County – Point Mugu, Port Hueneme and San Nicolas Island – will tackle topics including advanced prototyping equipment, additive manufacturing, advanced material characterization and testing, unmanned systems development and mixed reality environments.
These six locations supplement a SoCal Tech Bridge in San Diego, Calif.; a Northwest Tech Bridge in Keyport, Wash.; a Northeast Tech Bridge in Newport, R.I.; a Central Florida Tech Bridge in Orlando; a Midwest Tech Bridge in Crane, Ind.; and a Palmetto Tech Bridge in Charleston, S.C.
James Geurts, the Navy’s acquisition chief, told reporters during the video conference that these Tech Bridges will help solve old problems with new solutions by bringing into the fold companies or researchers that may not even realize they have in their labs the solution to someone else’s problem. For example, he said, there could be a nontraditional way of making a shipyard repair job easier, more efficient or even safer for personnel.
“A challenge has been in the past, without a centralized or a collaborative node, connecting a shipyard worker in the naval shipyard to an SBIR program at [the Office of Naval Research] is a pretty large organizational distance which travels across many different funding streams, many different organizational streams. Just culturally, I wouldn’t expect those two communities to know how to communicate effectively to each other,” he said.
“This is really about exposing and leveraging opportunity. And so we may not know that an exoskeleton company somewhere else in Utah, say, could solve a shipyard problem in Portsmouth. … That’s really where I see the power of this, otherwise it’s just up to each individual to hunt and peck on the internet and their network of who they might know and who they’ve done business with, and that’s just not efficient or effective.”