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Navy seeks innovators, ideas to improve fleet

Jul. 6, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
A Navy group seeking high-tech, rapidly fieldable solutions to the fleet's problems has already begun work with 3-D printing technology and adapting Google glasses for sailors.
A Navy group seeking high-tech, rapidly fieldable solutions to the fleet's problems has already begun work with 3-D printing technology and adapting Google glasses for sailors. (Jae C. Hong / The Associated Press)
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Think you have a solution to one of the fleet’s most common or intractable problems? The Navy’s new innovation cell wants to hear it — you could even join the group and put your idea to the test.

With its budget shrinking, the service is putting a premium on working smarter. It’s seeking your ideas, even the wackiest ones, to solve problems and create new systems, much as Google developers came up with several projects, including Gmail and Google News aggregation, in their free time.

With technology key to naval dominance, the Navy has a host of engineers, scientists and designers across its many branches. But these organizations can be resistant to so-called “disruptive” technology that offers new possibilities — and hazards. That’s where you come in.

Formed last October, the Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell, or “Cric” for short, is a band of 15 disruptive thinkers tasked with rapidly bringing emerging technologies to the fleet. They regularly meet with thought leaders and technologists inside the Navy, as well as external experts. They also present their ideas personally to the Navy’s top officer.

The group is largely made up of collateral-duty personnel who spend at least four days a month working on projects and participating in brainstorming sessions.

There are about six open positions on the team; the Navy wants to fill them with junior officers and petty officers who have a viable or interesting idea to improve the Navy and have the gumption to see it to completion.

“The passion to change the Navy — that’s what we’re looking for,” said Capt. Richard Hencke, who heads the innovation department at Navy Warfare Development Command, where the the team is based. “It’s really those people that are like, ‘How come we do this? Why can’t we do that?’”

Hencke said the group is looking for five or six projects to work on starting next fiscal year.

The cell will launch 3-D printing sites in Norfolk, Va., and San Diego this year, and it wants you to take the machines for a spin. “We want those crazy ideas,” explained Lt. Ben Kohlmann, an innovation group member overseeing the trial.

Another project in the works, according to Hencke: “We call it Sea Glass, but it’s really about Google glasses and bringing them to the sailors.”

Even if you’re not interested in joining, the Navy wants your tech input. NWDC has launched CollabLab, where you can post new ideas and vote on others. Among ideas under consideration: detailing technicians to the same ship over and over so they wield ship-specific expertise, printing fake shotguns and pistols for training, or using Google Earth for mission planning.

CollabLab is online at https://www.nwdc.navy.mil/ncfi/.

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