USADARPA ‘Crowd Sources’ Combat Support Vehicle Design

WASHINGTON, Feb. 7, 2011 — The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is lever­ag­ing the “pow­er of the crowd” to reduce the time it takes to design and build com­plex, expen­sive com­bat vehi­cles, an agency offi­cial said today.

Experimental Crowd-derived Combat-support Vehicle Design Challenge.
This com­put­er-aid­ed design image shows the chas­sis frame to be used in the Exper­i­men­tal Crowd-derived Com­bat-sup­port Vehi­cle Design Chal­lenge.
Cour­tesy pho­to
Click to enlarge

Army Lt. Col. Nathan Wieden­man, deputy pro­gram man­ag­er for the six-month Exper­i­men­tal Crowd-derived Com­bat-sup­port Vehi­cle Design Chal­lenge, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice that the crowd includes ser­vice mem­bers, engi­neers, mem­bers of the pub­lic and oth­ers who usu­al­ly have no way to con­tribute to mil­i­tary design. 

“Sol­diers love to give feed­back, to put it nice­ly, about the lim­i­ta­tions of their vehi­cles,” Wieden­man said. 

“I spent months in Afghanistan hear­ing from sol­diers about their issues with their vehi­cles,” he added. “So here’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­tribute in a mean­ing­ful way to how we can do things better.” 

The pro­gram will result in a ful­ly func­tion­al con­cept vehi­cle that should be ready in June, he said, and offers a way to intro­duce the most inno­v­a­tive ideas for a bet­ter per­form­ing vehicle. 

The agency is work­ing to cre­ate a new, faster process for devel­op­ing future mil­i­tary vehi­cles. This chal­lenge – con­duct­ed with Local Motors, Inc., of Phoenix — is one step in that process. 

Local Motors will begin accept­ing design sub­mis­sions Feb. 10 and close the process March 3. The com­pe­ti­tion is open to the pub­lic, and designs can be entered using any­thing from a sketch on a piece of paper to a com­put­er-aid­ed design sys­tem. The win­ner will receive $7,500, sec­ond place $1,500 and third place $1,000.

The com­pe­ti­tion involves use of a light­weight, tubu­lar steel chas­sis and a Gen­er­al Motors pow­er train from a car called the Ral­ly Fight­er built by Local Motors, which devel­oped the vehi­cle in 2008 using a crowd-sourced process. 

Those who take the chal­lenge will use the chas­sis and dri­ve train and design a vehi­cle body “that does the things sol­diers need it to do,” Wieden­man explained. 

To focus the con­trib­u­tors’ efforts, the chal­lenge offers two mis­sion sets — one is com­bat deliv­ery and evac­u­a­tion and the oth­er is com­bat reconnaissance. 

“The intent is not to pro­duce two sep­a­rate vehi­cles but to give peo­ple some­thing to shoot for,” Wieden­man said. 

Com­bat resup­ply refers to the con­stant need in the bat­tle­field to bring sup­plies for­ward and move peo­ple or equip­ment back, he explained. The chal­lenge for this mis­sion will be to con­cep­tu­al­ize a vehi­cle body design that allows this to be done in the most flex­i­ble pos­si­ble way. 

A com­bat recon­nais­sance vehi­cle has to be light and fast. Sight­ing sys­tems should be mount­able on the vehi­cle. Inside, items such as cam­ou­flage and ammu­ni­tion should be eas­i­ly stowed but acces­si­ble, Wieden­man said. 

“Because we real­ize that not every­body has the mil­i­tary back­ground to under­stand these mis­sion-set require­ments,” he added, “we pro­vid­ed Local Motors with four dif­fer­ent fic­ti­tious sce­nar­ios” that illus­trate how the vehi­cles might be used dur­ing each mission. 

“In the late 90s dur­ing a resup­ply mis­sion … we found our­selves low on rations,” one of the fic­ti­tious sce­nar­ios begins, and tells how weath­er strand­ed a group of coali­tion forces for three days with­out food or water. 

“If we’d had access to a fast vehi­cle,” the sce­nario con­cludes, “they could have pro­vid­ed the nec­es­sary sup­plies with­in 24 hours and our mis­sion would­n’t have been delayed. For­tu­nate­ly the delay did­n’t cost us any lives this time.” 

Accord­ing to the com­pe­ti­tion descrip­tion, “The goal of the [con­cept] vehi­cle will be to trans­port items and peo­ple around quick­ly and effi­cient­ly in a poten­tial­ly hos­tile but mobile environment.” 

DARPA has suc­cess­ful­ly used crowd-sourc­ing for oth­er projects, Wieden­man noted.

In 2009, the DARPA Net­work Chal­lenge explored the roles the Inter­net and social net­work­ing play in the time­ly com­mu­ni­ca­tion, wide-area team build­ing and the urgent mobi­liza­tion need­ed to solve time-crit­i­cal problems. 

The Net­work Chal­lenge win­ner was the first to sub­mit the loca­tions of 10 8‑foot bal­loons moored at 10 fixed loca­tions in the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States. 

Dur­ing the cur­rent chal­lenge, the agency and Local Motors will pro­vide feed­back to the com­peti­tors, Wieden­man said. 

“As sub­mis­sions are received, folks at Local Motors and DARPA will be pro­vid­ing feed­back. There will be quite a bit of back and forth,” he said. “It’s not just one shot and you’re done.” 

After the sub­mis­sions are assessed, those that meet the chal­lenge require­ments will be up for vote on March 3 to 10. 

“Every­body who wants to par­tic­i­pate can vote on the designs, so it’s not just sub­mis­sions that are crowd derived, but the win­ners of the vehi­cle body design will be crowd derived,” Wieden­man said. 

DARPA is inves­ti­gat­ing poten­tial uses for the con­cept vehi­cle, Wieden­man said. 

“It’s some­thing the larg­er mil­i­tary-vehi­cle-devel­op­ment com­mu­ni­ty will be inter­est­ed in,” he added. “So cap­tur­ing those ideas and giv­ing [the com­mu­ni­ty] an oppor­tu­ni­ty to not just see how the com­pe­ti­tion goes but see that end result is going to be valuable.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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