Over the past year, the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps has held an innovation challenge dubbed “Dragon’s Lair.” Soldiers have pitched their ideas to improve everything from range time management, to moving downed vehicles, to using augmented reality in a helicopter cockpit.
The XVIII Corps recently opened up the competition to other services and received a flood of ideas.
The current round is now being winnowed down to finalists who will come to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, or participate via remote video, in a “Shark Tank” style Q&A session with XVIII Corps leaders and subject matter experts.
Of the 104 total submissions, 61 came from the Air Force, 11 from the Navy, three from Space Force and 29 from soldiers, said Col. Joe Buccino, XVIII Corps spokesman.
Looks like the Marines don’t want to play this time around.
Past winners have received a four-day liberty pass, the Army training school of their choice and a Meritorious Service Medal.
Army Times previously wrote about Army 1st Lt. Mahdi Al-Husseini, a Black Hawk pilot with 3rd Battalion, 25th Combat Aviation Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, who won the competition in September with his camera and touch screen tablet-based tool for instant pilot/driver performance feedback.
In November 2020 Army Spc. Trevor Cross with the 101st Airborne Division won the competition with a simpler forklift trailer attachment to help use forklifts instead of Humvees to move items such as generators around the motor pool.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Walker is currently assigned to the U.S. Transportation Command. He spoke with Army Times recently about his submission to the competition.
The former surface warfare officer first enlisted in the Navy in 2001 before attending the U.S. Naval Academy and commissioning in 2008. While serving aboard ship he noted a common problem — complete blind spots in various areas of the vessel from the bridge.
For those landlubbers out there, the bridge is the main room where the ship’s captain and crew command the vessel.
Walker, who is also a computer programmer, started working on a project called Ocean Augmented Reality using Google Glass as the platform. That project showed how virtual reality could be used to perform remote maintenance assistance on ships.
The idea was to be able to take any maintenance-trained sailor, have them put on the glasses and then walk them through troubleshooting or repairs anywhere in the ship from another location.
Walker thought the same tech could be used to “see” parts of the ship that were invisible from the bridge.
Along the way, Walker and other like-minded Navy AR enthusiasts put together an ad hoc “Navy Augmented Reality Consortium” to incorporate AR into various Navy projects.
Walker built a proposal he calls “Augmented Bridge” to solve the commander’s blind spot problem. He pitched it at a previous Navy League Sea, Air, Space exposition, but it wasn’t picked up for a full-fledge project.
“You could have anywhere from six to 15 people driving the bridge of a warship,” he said. “The biggest challenge is it’s difficult for one person to maintain awareness of everything going on at one time.”
He sees his solution as providing “continuous, tailorable access” to the point person, or watch-stander, giving them access to all information that everyone else has when and how they need it.
For Army-focused missions, it can work somewhat like a virtual sand table or a method for a commander to establish a common operating picture across a battlespace.
The project sat dormant for a few years until Walker saw a post on LinkedIn about the Dragon’s Lair competition being opened up to other services and decided to throw his idea into the mix.
Over the next week, XVIII Airborne Corps staff will sift through that proposal, and others, before they select as few as five to be presented to the Shark Tank.
Todd South has written about crime, courts, government and the military for multiple publications since 2004 and was named a 2014 Pulitzer finalist for a co-written project on witness intimidation. Todd is a Marine veteran of the Iraq War.