USA — Officials to Begin Testing ‘Venture Catalyst’ Solutions

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14, 2010 — Elec­tron­ic Sys­tems Cen­ter offi­cials here are prepar­ing to con­duct sev­en demon­stra­tions, each designed to test a spe­cif­ic tech­nol­o­gy solu­tion they might have known lit­tle or noth­ing about just months ago.

MQ-1 Predator
Crit­i­cal intel­li­gence data from full-motion video shot by an MQ-1 Preda­tor, shown here, might be more eas­i­ly culled if a com­mer­cial tech­nol­o­gy being explored by Elec­tron­ic Sys­tems Cen­ter offi­cials proves effec­tive. Offi­cials learned about the tech­nol­o­gy at a solu­tions work­shop held in con­junc­tion with the Defense Ven­ture Cat­a­lyst Ini­tia­tive pro­gram, which seeks to match inno­v­a­tive tech­nol­o­gy firms and prod­ucts to defense needs.
U.S. Air Force pho­to by Staff Sgt. Bri­an Fer­gu­son
Click to enlarge

The sev­en tech­nol­o­gy demos emerged from a solu­tions work­shop held here in late July, run in con­junc­tion with a spe­cial unit known as “DeVen­CI” with­in the office of the direc­tor for defense research and engi­neer­ing. DeVen­CI – for­mal­ly known as the Defense Ven­ture Cat­a­lyst Ini­tia­tive — is pow­ered by a hand­ful of ded­i­cat­ed staff and 15 ven­ture cap­i­tal con­sul­tants, who rep­re­sent some of the nation’s top ven­ture cap­i­tal firms and work pro bono on this ini­tia­tive.

The ESC solu­tions work­shop fol­lowed an April needs work­shop that unveiled dozens of chal­lenges and 18 spe­cif­ic areas of need. A sub­se­quent solic­i­ta­tion, great­ly aid­ed by the con­sul­tants, who reached out to com­pa­nies they believed capa­ble of meet­ing those needs, gar­nered 96 respons­es.

“We received respons­es cov­er­ing every one of the need areas we iden­ti­fied,” said Adam Goobic of ESC’s capa­bil­i­ties inte­gra­tion direc­torate, or XR, who coor­di­nat­ed much of the effort.

The XR team then met with the cen­ter pro­po­nents who had put forth their tech­ni­cal chal­lenges. Togeth­er they culled the respon­dents down to those they thought had the most promise. From that list, 22 com­pa­nies pre­sent­ed at the two-day solu­tions work­shop.

Fol­low­ing the work­shop, the ESC and DeVen­CI teams agreed on the sev­en that would be fund­ed for active demon­stra­tions. They include such items as a spe­cial pen that dig­i­tizes the motion of writ­ing and instant­ly records a dig­i­tal ver­sion of doc­u­ments, which could allow con­tracts writ­ten in the­ater to be sent any­where they’re need­ed with­out copy­ing, scan­ning or typ­ing any of the infor­ma­tion onto a com­put­er.

Oth­ers offer more direct com­bat infor­ma­tion trans­mis­sion and com­mand and con­trol capa­bil­i­ties. One promis­es to accel­er­ate the per­for­mance of var­i­ous appli­ca­tions over Advanced Extreme­ly High Fre­quen­cy satel­lite com­mu­ni­ca­tions net­works. Anoth­er demo will test out a sort­ing tech­nol­o­gy that could help oper­a­tors quick­ly pull the most rel­e­vant infor­ma­tion from copi­ous full-motion video.

“Culling is the real key,” said Scott Hardi­man, XR deputy direc­tor. “It would be a great tool for oper­a­tors who are deal­ing with over­whelm­ing quan­ti­ties of data.”

Some of the tech­nolo­gies, includ­ing that one, were so promis­ing that they trig­gered mul­ti­ple, same-day meet­ings with pro­gram office offi­cials, accord­ing to John Belanger of MITRE Corp., a mem­ber of the XR team. Some of those meet­ings focused on not only the tech­nol­o­gy but also poten­tial appli­ca­tions and tweaks.

“Part of the process is, ‘Sure it does this, but what if it could do this, too?’ ” Belanger said.

The sev­en demos will be fund­ed through a $1 mil­lion bud­get pro­vid­ed by DeVen­CI, with some cost­ing as lit­tle as $25,000 and oth­ers cost­ing up to $375,000.

“We’re get­ting about twice the amount of fund­ing that oth­er orga­ni­za­tions who’ve gone through this process typ­i­cal­ly get,” Goobic said, not­ing that DeVen­CI offi­cials have laud­ed the over­all ESC effort as “one of the best.”

He said the prepa­ra­tion for, exe­cu­tion of and results from the ESC work­shops did a great job of achiev­ing the Defense Department’s three mea­sures of suc­cess for the DeVen­CI pro­gram: field­ing emerg­ing com­mer­cial prod­ucts from non­tra­di­tion­al Defense Depart­ment sup­pli­ers, facil­i­tat­ing exper­i­men­ta­tion and test­ing of emerg­ing com­mer­cial prod­ucts, and iden­ti­fy­ing tech­nolo­gies and expos­ing gov­ern­ment users to emerg­ing com­mer­cial prod­ucts that meet warfight­er needs.

The suc­cess was due in part to the recep­tive­ness of ESC offi­cials, Hardi­man said.

“Peo­ple came in with an open mind, and they real­ly took the time to dis­cuss and explore these tech­nolo­gies,” he said, not­ing that skep­ti­cism some­times derails these “out-of-the-box” efforts.

It also helped that the com­pa­ny rep­re­sen­ta­tives at the work­shop were very knowl­edge­able. “The briefers had real tech­ni­cal savvy about their prod­ucts,” Hardi­man said.

The demon­stra­tions will play out over the next six to 12 months, with most occur­ring at either gov­ern­ment or MITRE facil­i­ties. They’re being shaped by the pro­po­nent, or need own­er, along with XR staff and the com­pa­nies them­selves.

“If they work out, the next step will be to fig­ure out how to buy them and get them into use,” Belanger said.

Either way, Goobic said, a lot of lessons will have been learned.

That’s true even for those tech­nolo­gies that didn’t make the fund­ing cut for a demon­stra­tion. Acquir­ers here now know what tech­nolo­gies are avail­able, and the com­pa­nies now know what the gov­ern­ment needs, so that even if a prod­uct isn’t quite right in its cur­rent con­fig­u­ra­tion, the next ver­sion might be.

“It real­ly is an excel­lent process for iden­ti­fy­ing com­pa­nies and tech­nolo­gies we might not have looked at,” Hardi­man said. “I think it clear­ly proved to be what we hoped it would be.”

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

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