The U.S. Army wants your ideas—large or small—to help them better equip and prepare its soldiers on the battlefield. In military jargon the Army is looking for “soldier-focused tactical solutions.”
To facilitate that process the U.S. Army Rapid Equipping Force (REF) recently launched ArmyCoCreate.com, a website for soldiers to identify tactical challenges and collaborate to design solutions. The online community has drawn more than 1,100 unique users and connects soldiers with innovators and civilian supporters to identify problems, suggest solutions and build prototypes. Army CoCreate is free and open to the public.
This proof-of-concept effort will test the applicability of crowd-powered design processes for the REF mission. The emphasis is to capture the ideas of soldiers with recent combat experience, demonstrating REF’s commitment to include end users in each step of rapid solution development.
“Right now, the Army is filled with resources: the Soldiers returning home from Afghanistan rich with operational experience from that conflict. It is important to maintain institutional knowledge of what we have learned,” said Col.Steven Sliwa, REF director. “Though the problems addressed by the CoCreate community may not be theater-specific, we want to determine if this technique can assist Soldiers in refining requirements and developing solutions.”
Soldiers from the Maneuver Center of Excellence Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate will bring the community’s virtual blueprints to life by manufacturing 3D prototypes during two Make-a-Thon events held at Fort Benning, Ga.
The first Make-a-Thon took place in December of last year. The project chosen for construction was a “Mobile Command Post.” The objective is to modify a Kawasaki Teryx 750cc all-terrain vehicle that supports dismounted Soldier operations.
A second Make-a-Thon is happening this week (Jan. 13-16th) and is being lived streamed. This provides the public with an opportunity to interact with soldiers building the prototype in real time. Users can ask questions, post comments and provide input that can have a direct impact on the Mobile Command Post prototype.
How It Works: The CoCreate Process
The REF continually seeks to improve internal processes and maintain a rapid edge.
“When you have a situation where you need good solutions in a time-critical manner, it is important to be aware of and tap into industry best practices,” Sliwa said. “We know cocreation works, but we want to find out if it works for the REF.”
Army CoCreate builds off of a previous effort between the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the industry partner, Local Motors. The two organizations worked together to design and prototype the XC2V combat support vehicle
Army CoCreate is comprised of four distinct lines of effort. The first is to identify problems. From the site’s “Ideas” page, participants can identify specific tactical challenges for the community to address. Community members vote or comment on their favorite soldier challenge idea. The projects with the most votes are most likely to be selected as the main Army CoCreate project brought to life at a Make-a-Thon.
The second line of effort is to suggest solutions. From the “Design” page, participants upload sketches, graphics and renderings for a soldier solution. Again, users can like, comment or follow updates for their favorite designs. Designs may inform the main Army CoCreate project or inspire people who can make the idea a reality.
On the “Projects” page, or the third step of the Army CoCreate effort, REF will begin in-depth collaboration on one main project prior to the first Make-a-Thon event. Site moderators will post detailed soldier challenge information such as the size, weight, power, operation and endurance guidelines. Community members can select and contribute to the part of the project that interests them the most.
The final phase of Army CoCreate are the two Make-a-thons, week-long innovation workshops where soldiers build 3D prototypes using REF Expeditionary Lab equipment and then provide end user feedback.
Army CoCreate supports the REF mission to meet global soldier requirements. REF harnesses current and emerging technologies to provide immediate solutions to the urgent challenges of U.S. Army forces deployed globally.
Sergeant Major Jose Quinones, Jr. became the senior noncommissioned officer at the REF in April 2013. Originally from Puerto Rico Rico, Quinones joined the Army in 1983. He is the recipient of the Bronze Star (Three Oak Leaf Cluster) and has deployed numerous times in support of U.S. Southern and Pacific Commands as well as Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.