Tag Archives: Innovation

Innovation Files: Automated Plan of the Day (autoPOD)

There’s been a big uproar lately about innovation in the Navy throughout message boards and the blogosphere – what is innovation, what it’s not, and what method Big Navy should be taking to jumpstart innovation among the fleet, if any at all.  LT Jon Paris and LT Ben Kohlmann, both of whom are very involved in the conversation, had a great discussion about the topic on CIMSEC’s Sea Control Podcast, hosted by LT Matt Hipple.  LT Paris followed up with an excellent blog post.  While there are some contrasting views, it seems like one thing that’s agreed upon is that the deckplate innovation already occurring in the fleet sometimes doesn’t make it “up and out” or isn’t as publicized as it should be.  In that capacity, LT Hipple, and some members from the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, offered a challenge to start publishing examples of innovation in the fleet.  I’ve decided to take this up head on in a series of “Innovation Files”.

Nearly every command has a “Plan of the Day” (POD) – a widely distributed one-page agenda with at least the current and following days’ schedule of events.  Depending on the command, certain PODs are very long and many regularly contain dozens of events per day, some at overlapping times.  Early on, I noticed a couple glaring inefficiencies particular to my command.  First was the process – A yeoman would be specifically assigned to “do the POD” for the day, a duty rotated among the junior yeomen that nobody wanted.  This task started by opening the previous day’s POD, changing the date, piling through various e-mails and files on the shared drive, and then writing the new daily schedule by hand.  After an hour or two, it would get routed up to the ship secretary, personnel officer, admin officer, training officer, operations department, various department heads, command master chief (CMC), and some others before finally getting to the XO.  Every position in the chop chain had their own changes and events to add, and it required the yeoman to literally go around the ship looking for each of these people, and then going back and correcting the changes for each correction or addition.  It wasn’t uncommon to print in excess of 15 POD drafts before the final revision.  As you can imagine, POD duties were an all-day event, and since the POD needed to be finalized and signed by the next day, it kept everybody around well into the evening.

After much thought, the XO, personnel officer, and I agreed on a plan to create a public calendar on Microsoft Outlook to streamline the POD process.  However, PODs have a very specific format, and Outlook can print nothing close to the format.  For example, asterisks had to be next to times if the event was to be announced on the 1MC, events had to be in bold lettering if the CO was attending, and everything had to fit on the page in two neat columns.  It wasn’t as simple as hand-copying every single event into the old POD format though; the daily schedule constantly changed throughout the day, and there was no process in place to ensure if any late additions or modifications in Outlook were included in the POD.  This, along with other human errors, severely complicated the process, and made it essentially as inefficient as the old method.  If only there was a better way!

autoPOD-1Introduce the automated POD (autoPOD).  We decided to devise a macro app on top of Microsoft Publisher, a computer publishing tool, to automatically translate events on Outlook into the same easy POD format everyone was used to seeing.  Macros are essentially programs, coded in easy-to-learn VBA (Visual Basic for Applications), that are built on top of application documents (in this case Publisher’s and Outlook’s) meant to automate tasks within these programs.  Because of this attribute, it gets around IT policy requirements, which prohibit the introduction of specific executable programs not pre-approved by SPAWAR.  Microsoft Publisher was chosen over Word because it’s specifically designed to manipulate documents with multiple dynamic text boxes.  Through an appropriate script reference, the app asks the user permission to reach out to any designated public Outlook calendar.  Then all the user has to do is click one button, and it automatically inserts the daily schedule into the POD publication – complete with dates, events, headers, etc.  The layout is easily manipulated by different codes inputted into the appointment screen on Outlook.  For example, for an event to appear “bold”, which indicates the CO is attending, an actual Outlook invitation for that appointment is sent to the CO, which is then designated on the user interface with a specific user name.

autoPOD-2

Along with events, the app supports all sorts of informational headers put in by different users through Outlook tags – for example, the operations officer puts in the appropriate command duty officers and duty sections, and the quartermasters put in sunrise and sunset times into Outlook.  The app supports time structures displayed as “All Day” or “TBD”, and all types of recurring events.  Different permissions (ie: read only, add, or modify/delete) can be granted to different users to modify the Outlook Calendar, and the program is set up for an administrator to view when and who is putting in the events, so it’s not possible to sneak a last minute evolution for the next day without the XO and CMC knowing.

AutoPOD was eventually customized for several other tasks.  By request, we built an automated Plan of the Week (POW) 10-day printable outlook on top of Microsoft Excel for the Planning Board for Training (PB4T), which mimics the POD format each day, for planning purposes.  Other ships had a weekly or monthly outlook summary with important events listed on the back of their POD, and autoPOD was customized for these commands as well, using the “priority” attribute to determine if the item should be displayed on a weekly summary.  We have continuously refined AutoPOD to accommodate every ships’ POD format, meaning there will be little, if any, visible change to the Sailor.  For example, there are options to autoPOD-3modify the font, size, and width for the time and subject columns.  Additionally, it’s designed to be plug-and-play – all contained in one publisher file – so it can be used immediately and without any complicated installation procedures.  Detailed documentation is provided on how to install the program and manipulate the schedule via Outlook.

It is worth noting that the initial concept of autoPOD was not received well in its early stages.  For example, the yeomen were used to a certain way of doing things, and didn’t want to move over from Word to Publisher.  Despite comprehensive training, some department heads and department lead chief petty officers continued to send e-mails to admin with their events, instead of deconflicting and scheduling it themselves in Outlook.  However, after much dedication and patience, everyone slowly acclimated.  The new system is now second nature, and it’s hard to think of how life even functioned in the past.

To date, autoPOD has been distributed to over a dozen ships, across several waterfronts.  It has undoubtedly made the POD process less frustrating, and has saved countless manhours and time, from the junior yeoman who can produce a POD in minutes, to the XO who no longer has to micromanage the process.  Unfortunately, we recently hit a bump in the road when asked to set up the app on a ship that finished an extensive shipwide IT refresh known as a Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) installation.  At the time, CANES strictly restricted ships from creating and using shared calendars, along with other security settings that prevented the app from working properly.  A workaround is in progress, but it illustrates a point that has been brought up in the recent discussions – many Navy policies and procedures are around for valid reasons, but often come at the expense of productivity and innovation.  It’s essential to collaborate between the fleet and appropriate project managers / designers / policymakers to figure out an optimal mix.

Zachary Howitt is a proud American, Naval Officer, and Tech Entrepreneur. He is a designated operations analysis subspecialist and has served in two warships forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan. His opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Navy, or any command.

Sea Control 12: Innovation

CIMSEC-LogoWhile some might claim military innovation is an oxymoron, many fight that sentiment every day to build a flexible and effective military force. Join Jon Paris, Ben Kohlmann, and Matt for a podcast about military innovation, the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell, and Professional Military Education. Remember to bother everyone you know until they listen and subscribe to the podcast. We are available on Itunes, Xbox Music, and Stitcher Stream Radio. Enjoy Sea Control 12: Innovation (download).

If You Give an Engineer a Toy: Building a Better Command Center

Virginia-class layout in CAFÉ laboratory, NUWC Newport
        Virginia-class layout in CAFÉ laboratory, NUWC Newport

Guest Post by Matt Puterio

At Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Newport we recently began an internal investment project—the Seamless and Intuitive Warfare Workforce Development Project—to develop the next generation of “system of systems” engineers. These engineers will ideally be trained to view problems and develop solutions in a holistic manner, breaking from the stove-piped designs of legacy systems.  As an underlying theme for the effort, NUWC Newport focused on the “One System” vision for submarine tactical systems.  This idea was originally conceptualized at the Tactical Advancements for Next Generation (TANG) forum and further advocated by the submarine fleet.  In pursuit of this vision, the team explored potential improvements for submarine combat system interfaces and for the control room as a way to improve the information flow and the effectiveness of the control room’s contact management team.

Our Approach:

  1. Team formation: We recruited and selected a cross-departmental team of 10 young engineers, typically with 3-7 years experience, from the Sensors and Sonar Systems, Combat Systems and Electromagnetic Systems Departments at NUWC Division Newport.
  2. Baselining on current combat systems: We cross-trained the team using military personnel in the Combat Systems Collaboration And Fleet Experimentation (CAFÉ) laboratory on an end-to-end layout of a Virginia-class ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) control room, driven by a Submarine Multi Mission Team Trainer (SMMTT) system with sonar and combat control watch teams. An imaging simulator was even used to populate the periscope view with surface contacts when operating at periscope depth.
  3. Innovation process:  The team brainstormed initial concepts for next-gen integrated tactical systems, generating around 40-50 ideas, from which about 8 concepts were selected by the team for early prototyping with mock-ups.  These mock-ups were cut-out model representations using basic materials such as foam-core, cardboard and coloring sheets; and served to focus the team’s attention on details of scale and placement that would not have otherwise occurred.

Today’s Sailors are accustomed to immersive video games, advanced smart phones and tablets, intuitive multi-touch applications and can easily navigate the highly networked and always-connected world in which we now live in (so-called ‘digital natives’). Our project aims to leverage this natural affinity coupled with advanced technologies such as high resolution multi-touch displays, and mobile computing devices, and new software concepts such as cloud computing and virtualization and apply them to the demanding needs of the tactical warfighter. Sailors should be able to seamlessly adapt their high-tech civilian skills to the world of Undersea Warfare with minimal re-training and Seamless and Intuitive USW is focused on making this goal a reality.

The innovation process we followed was modeled after one developed by design and innovation consulting firm IDEO; the same process used by the TANG workshop. Generating a series of “How might we…” questions (called HMWs), the group brainstormed ideas for what improvements could be created. The members of the brainstorming group then came up with ideas to answer the questions (e.g. “redesign the layout of the control center!”) and wrote their ideas along with descriptive pictures to better explain the idea on sticky notes; one idea per sticky. Emphasis was on rapid and not necessarily well thought-out ideation along with quick sketches for each idea. The fast-paced nature of this exercise kept team members excited and stimulated creativity.

Figure 3
 Brainstorming

After investigating each idea, the group voted on the ideas they found most interesting, most powerful, or most disruptive.  Sub-groups of 2-5 team members were formed, and each sub-group picked a high scoring response to a HMW question that they would like to prototype.  This stage of prototyping was very basic; 4-K displays, iPads, iPhones, Android tablets, cloud computing, and multi-touch monitors took a back seat to foamcore, construction paper, hot glue, whiteboards, Sharpies, and dry erase markers.  The immediate goal wasn’t to get an actual product out to the fleet—rather to build a better mental model of the top ideas before laying the groundwork for an actual system.  Some of our prototypes at this stage included an operator workstation stack built out of foamcore, models of how we envisioned the layout of futuristic control rooms built from construction paper and foamcore (complete with popsicle stick sailors), and a 3D-display made from transparency sheets and foamcore.

Building rough prototypes literally turns words on paper into tangible objects.  Tangible objects are easier to work with since they do not require the imagination of onlookers and fellow team members.  A 3D-display may seem unnecessary until a fellow team member shows a physical model with a clay “ownship” submarine at the center and contacts of interest at various ranges and bearings on the display, directly modeling the actual tactical picture in the current environment.

Figure 5
Prototyping

From here our Seamless & Intuitive USW group branched out in two directions; software application development and virtual worlds (VW) modeling. The “App Team” focused on taking the most promising and realistic rough prototypes (in terms of team skills and project timeframe) and prototyped them in an actual software environment. This year we had access to a Perceptive Pixel multi-touch workstation with the Qt development environment that enabled us to quickly put together a few simple applications to interactively demonstrate the same concepts we prototyped using the arts & crafts materials. One example was a “Multi-touch App Manager” which allowed a user to pull open a menu of “available apps” similar to the app icons on Android or iOS, and resize and drag individual “apps”—simply static tactical screenshots in our prototype—around the workspace. Other examples included a demo of three different ways to select a trace on a display and a “Five Finger” multi-touch menu that enables users to pull open an intuitive menu simply by placing their right or left hand on the display surface.

Some of the ideas we brainstormed couldn’t adequately be represented in software. Rather than build a full-sized model submarine control room, the other branch of our group, the “Tiger Team,” employed their modeling skills with Second Life, a virtual world simulator. The Tiger Team worked with the “Virtual Worlds” group at NUWC, a team with expertise in creating realistic virtual models of Navy ships, submarines, and facilities in Second Life. The Virtual Worlds group assisted the Tiger Team in building realistic models of concepts such as new control room layouts, next-generation displays (such as the previously mentioned 3D-display), and even interactive displays by utilizing Second Life’s VNC capability (see below for an inward-facing command center configuration).

Figure 6
“But now they can all see when I’m updating my fantasy football team!”  Futuristic Command Center conceptual layout in Virtual Worlds.

The next step from here is implementing these prototypes on live data-streams, and integrating them as advanced engineering modules into a tactical system. So far we have given various demonstrations of our concepts, and have received overwhelmingly positive feedback from our colleagues, internal NUWC management, and fleet representatives from Submarine Development Squadron TWELVE at the annual DEVRON12-NUWC Tech Exchange. The simplicity of the design-thinking process allowed our small team of engineers to go from ideas on sticky notes to working software prototypes and virtual models in several weeks.

We are eager to continue our work on Seamless and Intuitive USW. In addition to being an excellent platform for idea formation, this project was fun, exciting, and served as a vehicle to achieve our objective of developing the next generation of “system of systems” engineers. Working with next-generation technology is always a pleasure, and the expectation that our ideas will make it onto a shipboard system and help sailors perform their functions better makes our work even more worthwhile.

Contact Information:
Project Lead: chidambar.ganesh@navy.mil 401-832-3887
Co-Lead: raymond.j.rowland@navy.mil 401-832-8207

Matt Puterio is an engineer in the Sensors & Sonar Department and has been with NUWC Newport since June 2012 after graduating with a degree in Computer Engineering from the University of Delaware. His work includes test and analysis on the SQQ-89/ACB-13 surface ship sonar program and also works with Ray Rowland on the Seamless & Intuitive USW program.

The Athena Project – A Roundup of Our Waterfront Event

Athena eventA little over a week ago, a group of young innovators met in a brewery in Point Loma trying to change the U.S. Navy.

We hosted our third installment of The Athena Project at Modern Times Beer that Friday and for the first time, we opened it up to the entire waterfront. Even though the presenters were predominantly from USS Benfold, the birthplace of Athena, a few change-makers from other commands presented ideas. About 15 different commands represented in the crowd, many coming from the Basic Division Officer Course (BDOC) here in San Diego. In addition to the Navy contingent, representatives from the University of Southern California (USC) Institute of Creative Technologies, SPAWAR, Disruptive Thinkers, and Harris Corporation were among the more than 70 in attendance. We had a phenomenal turnout – better than we expected. It feels like just the beginning, though.

Before we get into the roundup of our last event, here’s a quick summary of how The Athena Project works. Presenters are given five minutes to pitch their projects to the crowd, who vote on each idea based on quality, actionability, and presentation. We’ve found that the short pitch time and lack of powerpoint forces each presenter to get to the heart of their idea quickly and to distill it down to the essential points. After every presentation, the floor is open for five minutes of questions and comments from the crowd. When all the projects have been presented, votes are tallied and the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage is announced.

The winning project gets to form a small functional team and receives command backing to make their idea happen over the next quarter. That, and of course bragging rights.

So, we had our friends from USC select the first name, and away we went. Here’s a summary of each of the ideas presented:

Idea 1: Psychology-Driven Division Officer Assessments – LTJG Kaitlin O’Donnell, USS Benfold

The foundation for LTJG O’Donnell’s idea was trying to help junior ensigns develop their leadership skill set. She proposed working hand-in-hand with the Human Systems Integration department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA, to generate a survey that could be given to an officer’s division to evaluate leadership traits. LTJG O’Donnell envisioned a breakdown similar to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to give young officers feedback and action items for strengthening traits.

Idea 2: Hydro Wave Power Generator – ET2(SW) Erika Johnson, USS Benfold

Petty Officer Johnson and her husband proposed utilizing cranks and netting in littorals to build a network of power generators that would double as a passive sonar system.  She explained the technology, then offered multiple design-types leveraging materials currently in use.

Idea 3: Peer Resource Sharing – LTJG Sarah Eggleston, Destroyer Squadron ONE

Citing a great deal of frustration in maintaining version control of current instructions and guidance, LTJG Eggleston proposed a sharepoint-like system in which naval personnel could share lessons learned, updated messages, and recent notices among other information. Feedback from the crowd suggested utilizing current channels such as Navy Knowledge Online to grow the database and function as a type of Navy Wiki.

Idea 4: Benfold University CLEP – STG2(SW) Gina Stevens, USS Benfold

Onboard USS Benfold, there is a program called Benfold University in which Sailors who have a passion and knowledge base for any topic can teach their shipmates about the subject. Since its establishment in early 2013, the program has hosted classes in writing, welding, photography, Spanish, finance, nutrition and Japanese. Petty Officer Stevens, the program’s first teacher, proposed using free resources provided by Navy College for the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) to teach Sailors the knowledge necessary to gain college credit for a course.

Idea 5: Active Sonar Defense – ENS Joshua Corpus, BDOC

A game-day addition to the presentation list, ENS Corpus proposed taking technology found in noise-cancelling headphones – reciprocal noise generation – and applying that concept to ships’ sonar to act as a defense against active prosecution. ENS Corpus defended his assertion following his presentation as engineers in the crowd questioned the technology. During a break in the action, the concept was a hot topic, bringing several innovators together to discuss the feasibility of the idea.

RELEASED USS Benfold PAO
                             USS Benfold – incubator

The winners of the ADM Sims Award for Intellectual Courage, this group of Petty Officers dominated the peer voting in every category with their presentation. The group proposed building an integrated database that would combine information from existing sensors to assist in identification of surface contacts. Characteristics from ships such as radar cross-section, electromagnetic emissions and heat signature would be combined with new visual-profiling software to build an electronic profile. That profile could then be compared to a database of surface ships and ranked by probability, resulting in rapid identification of long range surface targets. They also gave many examples on how the system could be developed in future iterations, including integration with seaborne drone systems and crew served weapons mounts. The pitch was well received and engineers from USC immediately pounced on the idea, offering to work with the team to develop a rapid prototype for proof of concept.

Idea 7: Electronic Division Officer Notebook – LTJG Isaac Wang, USS Benfold

Trying to solve the problem of maintaining paper records for Sailors, LTJG Wang suggested leveraging existing technology, like Neat Scanners and handwriting recognition software, to digitize the contents typically kept in Division Officer notebooks. Documents like counseling sheets, signed evaluations, history forms and the like could be scanned and kept together. Many in the crowd viewed this idea as “low hanging fruit” and claimed it would be simple to implement onboard a ship. LTJG Wang took the recommendations in stride and aims to institute his plan onboard BENFOLD.

Idea 8: Cosmogator – LT William Hughes, USS Benfold

LT Hughes, the navigator onboard Benfold, developed a concept for a system that would automate celestial navigation. He proposed that the system, consisting of optical sensors and a database of stars, could provide accurate positional data to the ship’s weapons systems in the event of a GPS outage. LT Hughes tested several mobile applications through his research and claimed that the technology to make this system a reality was well within reach. The crowd agreed, and his project finished in second place overall.

Idea 9: SCAT Tactical HUD – ENS Robert McClenning, FC1(SW) William Steele, FC2(SW) Amanda Curfew, FC2(SW) Justin Lagenor, GM3 Jacob Niessen, USS Benfold.

This large group finished third in the peer voting for their proposed solution to the problem of command and control for ships’ crew-served weapons mounts. Citing difficulty in communications between the Anti-Terrorism Tactical Watch Officer (ATTWO) on the bridge and the machine guns on the weatherdecks, the team suggested utilizing augmented reality (AR) headsets for gunners and a touch screen tablet for the ATTWO to optimize the process. The team said that the headsets would be simplistic – only displaying commands such as “fire” and “ceasefire” – and would have to be hard-wired because a tactical wireless system would be easily exploitable by potential adversaries.

Idea 10: Metal Alloys for Energy – GSM2(SW) Robertson Acido, USS Benfold

The second of our game-day additions, GSM2 Acido proposed taking technology that’s being developed by researchers at the University of Minnesota to augment the power needs of surface ships. The engineers developed a new alloy that converts heat into energy. GSM2 Acido suggested using that alloy onboard ships – on anything the exhaust stacks for engines to solar-heated panels – to save fuel by allowing ships to have sufficient power without running their generators. GSM2 Acido formed a small team at the Athena event, including BDOC officers and SPAWAR engineers, to shape his pitch before presenting.

Overall, the event brought forth some tremendous ideas from the deckplates and provided some great networking opportunities, but the best part of it all: We had fun. The feedback on all the voting sheets was incredibly positive, and the support from the diverse crowd was amazing. It’s encouraging to know that there are so many people out there who want to make a difference.

We’re looking into scheduling the next waterfront Athena event for this spring, and hope that the innovation wildfire continues to spread – not only on the West Coast, but throughout the Navy. We’ll post all the updates you can handle on our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/athenanavy or you can get information on Twitter by following @AthenaNavy. For more information and musings on innovation, you can check out our blog as well.

As The Athena Project continues to grow, so grows the chances that we’ll uncover the next big thing.

As Ben Franklin said, “To have a great idea, have a lot of them.”

Challenge accepted.

LT Dave Nobles is the weapons officer aboard USS Benfolds and a member of the CNO’s Rapid Innovation Cell. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.