VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – The Navy and Defense Department have a rich history of inventing things to win our nation’s wars. Sometimes those inventions have commercial applications also, so to help the inventors evaluate private sector use, Naval Surface Warfare Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD)/Dam Neck Activity hosted “Innovation Discovery” on Oct. 5.
Three Navy inventors emphasized the military need and possible commercial applications of their innovations before an expert panel similar to ABC's "Shark Tank". The panel was comprised of university professors, business owners and entrepreneurs who further brainstormed commercial applications after the inventors’ presentations and then asking the presenters questions.
The presenters were all from the NSWCDD C6ISR Systems Division: Bill Ward from the Cybersecurity Engineering and Readiness Branch; Alex Dixon and Aidan Cowhig from Systems Assessment Branch; and Tony Bausas and Leon Gregg from the Special Technologies Branch.
Dixon said, “Hearing the panel of experts take an interest in our invention and think of dozens of commercial applications was a great experience. It inspires us to not only continue to seek outside opportunities for this invention but to think of other things that might have both DOD and commercial applications.”
Dixon and Cowhig presented a device known as an air amplifier, which reduces the amount of compressed air needed to inflate rigid inflatable boats by using a 3D-printed amplifier that is customizable to fit any desired inflatable. Previously, air was sent directly from compressed air bottles into the boat, inflating at a 1:1 ratio. Using the air amplifier significantly reduces amount of compressed air tanks needed to inflate boats. Dixon and Cowhig overcame technical challenges in the lab such as combating backpressure as the inflatable craft begins to pressurize by theorizing that a device could take advantage of the Venturi and Coanda effects to draw ambient air into the device, to supplement the compressed air and reduce the amount of stored air needed to inflate the boat.
Dixon thinks that any commercial entity that produces or sells any kind of inflatable device could benefit from the air amplifier. This could be especially useful in camping or expeditionary environments, where compressed air is likely to be conserved. This could also be employed in emergency inflatable applications.
Ward’s presentation was on serial interface monitor and Bausas and Gregg’s invention is on spectral thumbnail.
There are four goals of Innovation Discovery, which began at NSWC Crane in 2009 and has now been conducted dozens of times: first, the process is designed to improve the transfer, transition, and commercialization of inventions being developed at the lab, leading to enhanced defense capabilities and positive economic impacts. Second, it engages lab scientists and engineers in technology transfer. Additionally, it raises the visibility of inventions with senior management and lastly, builds outside awareness of the lab as a national center of innovation.
Technical transfer of patents into these industries — or anywhere in the public domain — can help the Navy save money by reducing cost and increasing product availability.
"The panelists added a new dimension and a fresh look at the commercial applicability of NSWCDD intellectual property," said Lorraine Harting, NSWCDD Technical Partnering Office acting director, regarding the non-federal panel members' view of federal technology and its applications.
The panelists were led by Mike Riley of TechLink, a DoD partnership intermediary, which brokers Cooperative Research and Development Agreements and patent license agreements between DoD labs and U.S. industry for the manufacture and use of DoD inventions. These inventions involve virtually all technology fields, including medicine, software, electronics, communications, advanced materials, and energy-related technologies.
Juxtaposed to the "Shark Tank" moguls, the Innovation Discovery panel nurtures pressure free, non-critical, imaginative brainstorming sessions for ideas that improve the transfer, transition, and commercialization of inventions under development, leading to enhanced defense capabilities and positive economic impact.
"The more relaxed you are, the more creative you are," said Riley, who taught college students for more than 30 years at Montana State University. "It's highly important that we have no criticism — it will block creative thinking. When you think you will be judged, it will block you creatively. We are being creative as we see what everyone sees but thinking what no one else thinks."
The brainstorming — and a technique inspiring creativity called brainwriting — began immediately after each inventor briefed his innovation to the panel. In the end, the panel — and the witnessing audience of scientists and engineers — generated scores of commercial applications for the inventions.
The panelists were Marco Rubin, Senior Investment Director for the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT); David Ihrie, Chief Technology Officer for the Center for Innovative Technology; Dr. Charlie Daniels, an Engineering Management and Systems Engineering Professor at Old Dominion University; Dr. Nancy Grden, Executive Director of the Strome Entrepreneurial Center at Old Dominion University; Dr. Martin Kaszubowski, Executive Director of the Center for Enterprise Innovation at Old Dominion University; Garret Westlake, Executive director of the DaVinci Center at Virginia Commonwealth University; and Todd Gillingham, Vice President Marketing and Operations for the Fredericksburg (Va.) Regional Alliance.
"They brainstormed many great commercialization ideas for our technologies and patent claims to strengthen our patent applications," said Harting. "We will work hard to bring some of the great ideas generated to fruition. Ideally, the panel members will become ambassadors for NSWCDD. As they become aware of our inventions and the potential of these inventions to help create new technology start-up companies and assist existing businesses in the region, they will help get the word out: NSWCDD is a valuable national asset that has the potential to be a powerful engine of innovation and economic development."
The Innovation Discovery process has been identified as a best practice by the Navy Technology Transfer Program and is a prototype that federal research laboratories throughout the United States can implement to give their development personnel a step-by-step system to discover, document, and protect intellectual property and its commercialization potential.
Before the Innovation Discovery Process, there were limited resources in place to thoroughly identify and capture intellectual property aspects. Moreover, there was little thought among scientists and engineers about the technology transfer and commercialization potential of the innovations developed and implemented within their military projects.
The program enables NSWCDD to exploit the government's intellectual property generated during the research and development process. What's more, the patents' technical transfer can result in royalty income for the Navy. If commercial product sales are made that include these patents in the future, a percentage of those sales will also come back to the inventors and NSWCDD in the form of royalties.
NSWCDD, a Naval Sea Systems Command warfare center division, is a premier research and development center that serves as a specialty site for weapon system integration. The command's unique ability to rapidly introduce new technology into complex warfighting systems is based on its longstanding competencies in science and technology, research and development, and test and evaluation.
Dahlgren’s Dam Neck Activity at Combat Direction System Activity (CDSA) performs research, development, test and evaluation (RTD&E), analysis, systems engineering and integration of complex naval systems associated with surface warfare and strategic combat and weapon systems.