New Army Program Allows Companies to Submit Robotic Solutions Online (UPDATED)
By Allyson Versprille
The Army opened a new online portal that will allow inventors and manufacturers to submit ideas and technologies that may be integrated onto military robotic platforms, service officials announced April 7.
It will allow the service to test and evaluate new technology, streamline acquisition timelines and provide a more focused approach to shaping the service's robotics requirements, program leaders said at the National Defense Industrial Association's Ground Robotics Conference held in Arlington, Virginia.
TheRobotic Enhancement Program will use a "buy-try-inform" methodology that will enable the Army to buy or lease cutting-edge technology from industry leaders. The service will review submissions and perform experiments to determine if requirements should be written and the products should enter the acquisition cycle, said Scott Davis, the program executive officer for combat support and combat service support.
"What we're trying to do is … see what's out there, get it into a warfighting experiment and really assess whether or not it's filling a critical need," he said. "It's an additional opportunity to identify emerging capabilities … either pure capabilities that we hadn't thought about or using things in a different way that we hadn't thought about to allow us to shape decisions going forward."
The program is the robotic equivalent of the Soldier Enhancement Program established in 1989, which enabled soldiers to evaluate and procure prototypes and commercially available items to decide if they would enhance combat missions, said Davis. According to its website more than 42 percent of the equipment program executive office soldier fielded originated in the program.
The new robotic version that went online April 6 is funded with research, development, test and evaluation appropriations as opposed to temporary overseas contingency operations funding, which was used during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan for quick acquisition of technological solutions, said Lt. Col. Lawrence Dring, product manager for unmanned ground vehicles at the robotic systems joint project office.
The program has three main benefits: It will help the Army define requirements; shape the concept of operations for chemical systems and explosive ordinance disposal engineers; and allow the service to access current technology, said Dring in an interview with National Defense. It will also reduce research-and-development costs, according to a program brochure. Ideal submissions will be readily available and related to robotic hardware, payload, accessory and software, it also said.
Industry leaders are optimistic that the program will bridge communication and cooperation between the military and robotics manufacturers.
"It's not going to be huge amounts of money, but at least there's an opportunity for industry to compete for and win some small programs or do some experiments and not have to pay for them ourselves, like we've been doing forever," said Don Nimblett, senior manager of business development at Lockheed Martin.
The program could also be an opportunity for private companies to gauge the government's interest in a particular technology, said Mark Kauchak, director of sales and customer support at Northrop Grumman.
"It's going to be great to see what they're interested in and determine if we're wasting our time or we've got something or we should partner with someone" he said.
Submissions will be reviewed by all of the training and doctrine command schools as well as a council of colonels. The first council meeting will be held in August or September at either the Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, or project manager force projection — one of the leading organizations on the initiative — headquarters in Michigan, said Dring.
The program will be assessed after three years of operation to evaluate its success. If submitted projects aren't advancing beyond the experimental phase, the government will cease its funding, he said. ?
Correction: Previous version of this story misstated Lt. Col. Lawrence Dring's title.