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Army wants soldiers' ideas for new equipment

Nov. 23, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
The Squad Mission Equipment Transport- Alternate is one of six designs on the CoCreate Web page that users can vote to be fabricated at one of two 'make-a-thons' at Fort Benning, Ga. Soldiers can add other designs to the page.
The Squad Mission Equipment Transport- Alternate is one of six designs on the CoCreate Web page that users can vote to be fabricated at one of two 'make-a-thons' at Fort Benning, Ga. Soldiers can add other designs to the page. (Courtesy graphic via the Army)
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The Army is looking for a few good ideas. The Army’s Rapid Equipping Force is looking to turn soldiers’ homespun ideas into hot new equipment for troops with a new collaborative tool called Army Co-Create.

The REF, which aims to field gear in 180 days or less, has launched the online platform to involve soldiers from conception to birth of new technology.

“We’re talking to soldiers and getting them to tell us their tough problems, and from those tough problems and ideas, we’re going to down-select on one of them,” said Gary Frost, REF deputy director for futures.

Mimicking the crowd-sourcing trend, the REF enlisted Local Motors of Chandler, Ariz., to help it create and manage the online portal army

Local Motors uses online collaboration to develop innovative cars, which are built in regional “micro-factories.” The company designed and built the XC2V combat support vehicle for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in six months.

The best ideas will become part of two “make-a-thons,” on Dec. 9-13 and Jan. 15-19 at the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Ga.

Anyone with a good idea can submit it. Just log in and post. Users vote with their “thumbs” — up or down — and the most popular ideas have the best chance of survival.

“There’s a study that suggested 1.5 million soldiers have deployed over the past 10 or 12 years, and if you think about it, that’s 1.5 million ideas that maybe we aren’t harnessing,” Frost said.

The process is collaborative. For example users took the concept of goggles that don’t fog up, and within days, six users suggested existing scuba defogging agents and original design solutions like vent and insulation schemes.

“If you have 10 soldiers in a room solving a problem, you might have 10 different ways of solving that problem,” Frost said. “The idea is opening the aperture of good ideas, and as we’re building the solution, the soldier stays involved.”

Big or small ideas can become designs which then become projects. Soldiers can “like,” comment or upload their own sketches. For projects, moderators will post detailed challenge information such as the size, weight, power, operation and endurance guidelines.

The ideas first become reality in December, when the REF will build a mock-up for a month of user feedback. In January, the REF will see if a more robust prototype works. One of the REF’s expeditionary labs has a 3-D printer that may be used.

If a good idea doesn’t seem doable in the make-a-thon’s time frame, the REF may work it separately. One popular idea is a mobile command center made from an all-terrain vehicle with a communications package on it. A simple one Frost considered “genius” was mounting a funnel on a bucket-loader to quickly fill sandbags. “It’s a current requirement; every soldier does it, and we do it in war and in peacetime,” Frost said.

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