Over the Christmas holidays, the NY Times ran an interesting story that talked about experts and innovation – especially the paradox that more experts can produce less innovation. The results of the following experiment may provide a clue, and offer a useful reminder to our industry as a whole as it attempts to communicate with the broader public:
“Elizabeth Newton, a psychologist, conducted an experiment on the curse of knowledge while working on her doctorate at Stanford in 1990. She gave one set of people, called “tappers,” a list of commonly known songs from which to choose. Their task was to rap their knuckles on a tabletop to the rhythm of the chosen tune as they thought about it in their heads. A second set of people, called “listeners,” were asked to name the songs.
Before the experiment began, the tappers were asked how often they believed that the listeners would name the songs correctly. On average, tappers expected listeners to get it right about half the time. In the end, however, listeners guessed only 3 of 120 songs tapped out, or 2.5 percent. The tappers were astounded. The song was so clear in their minds; how could the listeners not “hear” it in their taps?”
Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC) in San Diego, CA received a $9.1 million one-year follow-on contract under previously awarded indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, cost-reimbursement contract (N66001-04-D-2504) to exercise an option to provide support for the Naval Health Research Center (NHRC), San Diego, to include studies of symptoms, morbidity, hospitalizations, reproductive outcomes, mortality, and other health-related issues among service members and Department of Defense beneficiary populations.
In response, one of the early-stage Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) approaches involves thinking entirely outside the sonar box. We talk about “submariner dolphins” – but maybe the creature they really need to emulate is the shark. Now a recent contract indicates that the US military is making real progress toward that goal…
Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC) announced a federal investment of more than C$ 48.8 million (about $45 million) for 29 new projects under the Chemical, Biological, Radiological-Nuclear and Explosives (CBRNE) Research and Technology Initiative (CRTI). These projects will address diverse requirements such as the development of more rapid, accurate and portable tools to detect chemical, biological and radiological agents, the fast-track development of an antiviral drug against Avian influenza, and the enhancement of decision-making support tools that assist the first responder and national security communities in coordinating a more efficient response to CBRNE incidents.
Canadian government departments and agencies working on this round of projects include DRDC, Department of National Defence, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), Environment Canada, Health Canada, National Microbiology Laboratory, National Research Council of Canada, Natural Resources Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada, and Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
The Department of Defense Multi-disciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) is a multi-agency Department of Defense program that supports research teams whose efforts intersect more than one traditional science and engineering disciplines. They’re especially interested in efforts where cross-fertilization can accelerate research progress, hasten the transition of basic research findings to practical applications, further key infrastructure such as research instrumentation development, or just help to train students in science and/or engineering in areas of importance to the US DoD.
In April 2007, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research announced the FY 2007 competition MURI awards, which will fund 10 awards to to 29 academic institutions, totaling about $60 million over 5 years. MURI awards are typically larger and longer in duration than traditional awards, with a 3-year base period plus a 2-year option contingent upon both availability of appropriation funds and satisfactory research progress. Topics ranged from “Dynamic Decision making in complex task environments: Principles and neural mechanisms” to “Biologically-Inspired Flight for Micro Air Vehicles” and many points in-between; this PDF file contains the entire list. Winners included teams at:
Ionatron in Tucson, AZ received a $9.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to fund the development of an advanced Ultra Short (femtosecond – 10^-15)Pulse Laser, physics modeling and experiments related to laser guided energy effects (i.e. Laser Induced Plasma Channel) requirements, a transportable demonstrator, and effects testing. This contract was not competitively procured by the energetics specialists at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Crane, IN (N00164-07-C-8901). See also Ionatron release.
Ionatron has done previous work on an IED land mine neutralized called the JIN, as well as nonlethal and lethal short-range energy weapons based on its technology. Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ (95%); Los Alamos, NM (3%); and Urbana, IL (2%), and is expected to be complete by April 2009. The contract includes technical development support from Los Alamos National Laboratories in Los Alamos, NM; and the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana, IL. Ionatron also has a strategic development agreement with DRS.
The Pentagon recently announced plans to award $41.2 million to academic institutions under the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP), to support the purchase of research instrumentation. DURIP meets a critical need by enabling university researchers to purchase scientific equipment costing $50,000 or more to conduct DoD-relevant research. Researchers generally have difficulty purchasing instruments costing that much under research contracts and grants.
These awards are the result of a merit competition for DURIP funding conducted by the Army Research Office, Office of Naval Research, and Air Force Office of Scientific Research. These research offices collectively received 780 proposals, requesting $220 million in support for research equipment. The 199 winning awards will fund efforts in to 112 academic institutions; they are expected to range from about $50,000 – $950,000, with an average around $200,000. All awards are subject to the successful completion of negotiations between DoD research offices and the academic institutions. See DoD release | the list of winning proposals [PDF format]
General Atomics won a $10.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to research and develop Integrated Power Systems (IPS). IPS provides total ship electric power including electric propulsion, power conversion and distribution, combat system support and mission load interfaces to electric power systems. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA and is expected to be complete by the Dec 2011. The Naval Sea Systems Command inWashington, D.C., reported it received 14 proposals for the opportunity.
While General Atomics was founded in 1955, and is well known for designing power distribution systems used by the US Navy on its aircraft carriers, a spokesman for the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center in Charleston, SC, that issued the contract call (N00024-07-C-4012) said the contract is not specifically geared to any platform already under construction. Instead, the technology developed during the R&D phase will be integrated into future systems.
The US Air Force Office of Scientific Research sees its mission as providing U.S. warfighters with a technological edge in battle. Each year, they evaluate thousands of basic research proposals received from scientists and researchers worldwide, in competition for a portion of $400 million in funding Air Force Office of Scientific Research program managers manage on behalf of the Air Force and the Air Force Research Laboratory.
“…demonstrate stable and controllable high-speed underwater transport through supercavitation. The intent is to determine the feasibility for supercavitation technology to enable a new class of high-speed underwater craft for future littoral missions that could involve the transport of high-value cargo and/or small units of personnel. The program will investigate and resolve critical technological issues associated with the physics of supercavitation and will culminate in a credible demonstration at a significant scale to prove that a supercavitating underwater craft is controllable at speeds up to 100 knots.”
James Bond is officially jealous, Q’s insurance division is cringing, and a pair of American defense contractors could be $78.6 million richer if the contracts they’ve just received pan out. We explain “supercavitation,” and detail the contracts involved.