NEWS | April 21, 2021

NSWCDD Innovation Lab Empowers Innovators to Test Ideas, Solve Naval Warfare Challenges

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Dr. John ‘JT’ Rigsby and Tamara Stuart see the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) Innovation Laboratory, or “iLab,” as a special place where innovators develop ideas in a creative atmosphere that accelerates problem-solving to meet challenges of all types.

The disparate backgrounds of the iLab’s new leaders – Rigsby, a physicist and Stuart, an economist – is a metaphor for the power of diverse thought available to NSWCDD employees at the command’s central hub of innovation to discover and develop solutions to hard problems.  

Rigsby, iLab director and Stuart, iLab deputy director, are exploring ways to expand that power and realize the lab’s unlimited potential to impact NSWCDD, warfighters and the fleet. “We’re here, we’re open and we want your ideas,” is Rigsby’s message to the NSWCDD workforce. “We want to share your ideas and help solve your challenges.”

By the time Rigsby began his third month and Stuart, her second month, in March 2021, the iLab re-opened its doors, hosting six design workshops. The flurry of activity is indicative of a strategy that Rigsby and Stuart are implementing while reaching out to the workforce. They are inviting employees to suggest ideas for future collaborative events like creativity sessions, hackathons, wargaming, and free-play days, utilizing the iLab’s capabilities like virtual reality, augmented reality and 3D printing.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Stuart and Rigsby are implementing an array of their ideas to include workshops and sessions where senior leaders, project managers and junior employees can safely engage and “cross-pollinate” while brainstorming, designing and testing future Navy concepts. Plans include allowing employees and guests to remotely connect with the iLab and its resources to learn, grow and develop solutions. No problem is too small, large or complex for the iLab, which draws on expertise extending throughout NSWCDD’s technical departments and outside the command. 

“I’m personally excited because we are going to help our workforce solve challenging problems with innovative solutions they develop for the warfighter – rapidly,” said Stuart. “The workforce has a resource to help them consult and collaborate with experts across Dahlgren, industry, academia and other government organizations to help them solve thorny challenges and hard problems. They don’t have to hack away at them on their own – we’ll bring in the expertise required to help them solve these problems.”

The Navy’s warfare center divisions, other government agencies and Department of Defense commands can also use the iLab as a resource to collaborate in a unique environment where a human-centered design process enables scientists and engineers to get to the heart of a problem and prototype a solution in a short period of time – as quickly as a week.

Whether it’s a promising new idea, innovation or capability with the potential to positively impact a technical program, the iLab is the place to bring it to the attention of experts who may be working on a similar project or another aspect of the same program.   

Collaborating with other innovation centers enables knowledge sharing and enhanced innovation. In February, engineers from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab (APL) Tactical Advancements for the Next Generation (TANG) innovation team visited the iLab to brief NSWCDD and Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) leadership on the Next Generation Combat Information Center (CIC) Project. TANG – sponsored by the Missile Defense Agency – created engagement and awareness around CIC possibilities through speculative design, looking ahead to 20 years in the future.

At one point in the TANG demonstration, Dahlgren employees – including NSWCDD Commanding Officer Capt. Casey Plew and the command’s Chief Technology Officer Jennifer Clift – watched as Aegis BMD Program Executive Rear Adm. Tom Druggan engaged in virtual reality while immersed in the Next Generation CIC experience.

“The development of this truly one-of-a-kind CIC experience is an enabler and a great step toward effective collaboration across the community,” said Lynn Reggia, TANG project manager. “Our hope is to keep iterating on and expanding this vision to include new ideas, further analysis, and other areas of the platform, so in some sense, the most important part of the experience is the built-in feedback portion. We truly hope many members of the community take part in the experience and leave feedback, and we continue building that into the future Next Generation CIC.”

That feedback, collaboration and exchange of ideas – even the situational awareness about TANG – can make a difference at NSWCDD as the command’s scientists and engineers update, develop and install Aegis BMD software and weapon systems that may be integrated with the next generation CIC aboard the Navy’s guided missile destroyers, cruisers and littoral combat ships.  

The human-centered-design process is also making a difference in terms of technological innovation incubated within the Dahlgren iLab and the Missile Defense Agency’s Next Generation CIC TANG.

“NSWC Dahlgren Division’s human-centered-design approach lets us rapidly get to the heart of a problem, leading to a detailed plan for prototyping, testing and implementation of a solution in a week or less – that’s the goal,” said Stuart. “We are also rapidly prototyping in a short period of time to develop prototypes that will help solve some of these perplexing problems and innovation challenges while advancing our work.”

Meanwhile, Rigsby and Stuart are working to ensure the command is not losing great ideas and that the workforce is aware that their ideas have an incubator to be nurtured – the iLab.

One way this can be accomplished is through the Innovation Grant. NSWCDD employees can submit an i‑Grant application – accessible via the CTO page in the command internal website – for consideration by the iLab Steering Committee comprised of NSWCDD senior scientists and engineers with a broad spectrum of knowledge.

“This is funding to enable Dahlgren employees to bring their good ideas to the forefront,” said Rigsby, adding that the grants can provide up to $15,000 in funding to mature a proof of concept, create a prototype or model, enable an invention or improve a process. “Our goal is to tap into the entrepreneurial spirit of our talented workforce and provide the resources and environment necessary to discover, innovate and deliver cutting edge capabilities to the warfighter.”