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'Make-a-thon' to design tactical vehicle via online collaboration

By C. Todd Lopez

WASHINGTON (Dec. 05, 2013) -- The Army's Rapid Equipping Force will host a "Make-A-Thon" event, Dec. 9-13, at Fort Benning, Ga., to develop a mobile command post that is mounted on a commonly available Army Lightweight Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle.

The effort is part of a proof-of-concept to show that the Rapid Equipping Force's, or REF's, "ArmyCoCreate" concept can use "crowd sourcing" to quickly produce viable solutions for tactical problems.

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"The proof of concept is the process that could help the REF continue to innovate," said Gary Frost, the deputy director for futures at REF. "For the REF, the hardest thing we have is time. There are a lot of solutions out there, and there are a lot of people we could get to, if we had a year to go find a solution. For the REF, we have to figure out how in a very short period of time to get the most users and the most material solution providers together, so we can do a rapid prototype."

The REF set up a website at, and invited interested individuals to sign on to be participants in an online problem-solving community. Today, the site has more than 800 participants. They include both Soldiers and civilians, many with engineering and technical backgrounds.

The idea being tested is "in a very short period of time, can we generate enough users, and enough people who would be able to provide solutions, get them in a virtual room, and come up with a solution, and then be able to build something quickly," Frost said.

Within the online community at ArmyCoCreate, about 120 ideas were submitted as challenges that the community might solve together. Ultimately, the REF picked one of those suggestions as the challenge the community would solve. That selected challenge was to create a mobile command post.

Frost said the idea was among those with the highest number of votes from the community, which he said REF felt would keep the community involved, and Soldiers as well, and which also "made the most sense."

The challenge will be to modify an existing, commercially available Kawasaki Teryx 750cc LTATV, to carry a command, control, communications and computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capability. The resulting mobile command post must be able to serve platoon and company-sized units, or approximately 30-150 Soldiers.

During development of the project, he said, there is a focus on mobility, weight, visibility, payload, operations, and transportability.

During the Make-A-Thon event at Fort Benning, the first of two such events scheduled, Soldiers with the Maneuvers Center of Excellence Capabilities Development and Integration Directorate will work with members of the online community at to design the prototype mobile command post.

During the first event, participants will work on such aspects as vehicle platform specifications and payload capacity to see if "something needs to be tweaked" on the ATV to be able to add heavier equipment.

"What we'd expect at the end is a locked-down design," Frost said. "The design could be a cardboard cutout -- like this is how we will fit everything. That you could turn into [computer aided design] drawings, for the engineers to start building and measuring and cutting. And it will turn into 'this is the size and shape of the power and the batteries we need.' And then over the next couple weeks we are going to go procure whatever we need to modify it -- if it's batteries, a communications package, etc. -- and we will figure out online how to put this together."

By having Soldiers on the ground at Fort Benning participating in the design, he said, the effort will get much-needed feedback to ensure that what is being designed is actually usable.

"You get a user feedback; we call it a 'user jury,'" he said. "It's hands-on for that week that will kind of vet what we talked about online."

Later, at a second Make-A-Thon event, participants on the ground will actually build the mobile command post. Soldiers participating will look at the more finalized design to see if the idea is working the right way, Frost said. A second user jury will look at the design to see if it "makes sense."

"The intent is, if we can build what we think, and we are successful in it, it is a candidate to deploy to a unit," Frost said, "especially a unit in Afghanistan."

Ultimately, what is being tested is the process of defining a problem, proposing and selecting solutions, and executing those solutions using crowd-sourced expertise. This is something Frost said industry is already doing, and something he said the Army must do if it wants to be competitive.

"If we are going to keep being fast and innovate, we can't just do it on our own," he said.

Frost said that this iteration of the ArmyCoCreate concept is unclassified. But he said if need be, the same concept could be moved to a classified Army network, involving thousands of Army engineers to solve problems that require a security classification.

Assessment of effectiveness of the ArmyCoCreate project will involve looking at how long it took to build the online community, if the right kinds of people participated in the community, if enough good ideas were submitted, and how worthwhile the effort was in creating the end product.

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