Defense Technical Information Center's forums allow information sharing at various classification levels
As new technologies have increased the number and variety of potential threats to the United States, officials in various agencies within the Defense Department have recognized the need to employ innovative technologies of their own. One way to achieve that is to foster fluid and interactive collaboration between technology developers and DOD.
“When our adversaries are innovating ways to harm us, we need to be able to quickly respond,” said Christopher Thomas, chief technology officer with the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC), the central resource for DOD and government-funded scientific, technical, engineering, and business-related information.
The result: DOD Techipedia, a wiki-based approach that improves collaboration among agency scientists, engineers, acquisition workers and military service members.
But the DOD Techipedia project is more than just a wiki modeled after Wikipedia. It is a suite of services that use Web 2.0 tools to foster communication and collaboration at several classification levels, currently consisting of two internal components and one external component.
Group Effort: Leading Techipedia’s development were, from left, DTIC Chief Technology Officer Christopher Thomas, DTIC Administrator Paul Ryan and Noel Dickover, a contractor specializing in Emerging Technologies.
DODTechipedia Limited is the internal wiki designed to increase communication among DOD, federal employees and contractors. DODTechipedia Classified, launched on the Secret Internet Protocol Router Network (SPIRnet) in April 2009, lets authorized personnel have a more open discussion about the technology required to meet DOD’s needs.
The external component, DefenseSolutions.gov, is a public portal through which companies, entrepreneurs and research organizations can offer ideas on potential technologies that might meet DOD’s needs.
Another planned version, DODTechipedia External, will allow informal communication and collaboration on key technology areas among government personnel, large and small companies, research organizations and individuals working in the technology field.
A cross-agency team with members from the Rapid Reaction Technology Office (RRTO), the director of the Defense Research and Engineering (DDR&E), DTIC and the Office of the DOD Chief Information Office was formed to establish business processes and develop the suite.
The story of DODTechipedia’s origins is one of different agencies working toward similar goals but coming at it from different perspectives, said Noel Dickover, a contractor specializing in emerging technologies and social software media who works within the DOD’s CIO Office.
DTIC for 65 years has been in the forefront of new technology developments and, as a result, recognized early the benefits of the Web 2.0 revolution, said DTIC director Paul Ryan.
DTIC got involved in efforts to improve collaboration of all the people working on the Mine Resistance Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles effort, the family of armored fighting vehicles designed to survive roadside bomb attacks and ambushes.
“We thought we would take a look at this wiki technology and make some use of it," Ryan said. "That was our first exploratory dip into that area." DOD Techipedia grew from that. Later, DTIC expanded its work on this single effort with MRAP across to include scientific and technical information.
Meanwhile, researchers within the DOD CIO’s office were working on the procurement of augmented reality technology, which overlays computer-generated imagery on an image of a physical environment. One example is the yellow first-down line that appears on television broadcasts of football games, Dickover said.
“We were looking at how to bring information technologies into the department quicker,” Dickover said. “We developed a pilot [program] using wiki-based technology to bring together folks in the external side around the technology area -- in this case augmented reality -- and the DOD labs to see if we could get both sides to come together to say here is the state of the practice of the technology.
“So we got 30 companies and six labs and did interesting pilots to address the situational awareness issue,” he said. This approach lets the Combatant Commands find out if DOD already has technology in the cupboard to address their technology requirements, he said. There have been instances in which the same technologies were duplicated just because people didn’t know what existed.
Meanwhile, DOD Deputy CIO David Wennergren became aware of DTIC’s work with wikis when he was invited to be a keynote speaker at a DTIC conference. He asked if DTIC could help with the augmented reality project. Instead of doing something separate for both the CIO’s office and DDR&E, the center’s officials thought it would be better to combine efforts, Ryan said.
“So that is where this collaboration grew from,” Ryan said.
“I use Techipedia if I have a question or want to know something,” said Ben Riley, director of the Rapid Reaction Technology Office. “We’re in the Directorate of Defense Research and Engineering, so specifically we are a customer of Techipedia itself.”
Riley’s office is responsible for rapidly fielding new capabilities.
“One of the big objectives I have is trying to reach out beyond the traditional DOD partners to find innovative capabilities that exist in marketplaces we might not be aware of,” he said. As a result, DDR&E established the Open Business Cell, which manages DefenseSolutions.gov, launched in February.
Once DOD identifies companies with potentially useful technologies, it tries to expeditiously get them under contract to build a prototype.
Rather than advertise and be inundated with ideas, DDR&E chose to put specific problems up on the DefenseSolutions.gov Web site. Currently, for example, DOD is looking for companies to address battlefield forensics in three areas:
- A multi-test kit for explosives, drugs, heavy metals/gunshot residue.
- A handheld sensitive site-exploration documentation device.
- A digital image device that interrogates cell phones to determine the origin of any stored images.
So far there are 80 good proposals that will be vetted by DOD technical experts. To get a program expeditiously under contract, DOD is looking at vehicles such as Other Transactions Authorities and grants. About 40 percent of the proposals come from organizations that have no history of doing business with DOD.
“One of our goals is to reach beyond our partners to the innovation community internationally,” Riley said. “We are happy with our results to date.”