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GCN : March 2014
[BrieFing] The Army recently completed a crowd- sourcing project that took the develop- ment of a mobile command post from concept to working prototype in less than 60 days. The Army's Rapid Equipping Force (REF), which launched in 2002 to meet war ghter requirements in Af- ghanistan, aims to quickly eld solutions for globally deployed forces. Lately, the REF has been tapping crowdsourcing techniques to speed up development. In August, REF partnered with Local Motors to develop AutoCo- Create, an online platform that lets soldiers and civilians collaborate on Army solutions. Local Motors, a Phoenix, Ariz., company, designs and builds vehicles using open- source principles. The ArmyCoCreate platform launched in October 2013 and was soon put through its paces. Soldiers and the online community submitted about 120 ideas for the initial project, and on Nov. 22 the REF selected the mobile command post con- cept. A "make-a-thon" led to the creation of a mock-up vehicle in December. That mock-up was re ned into a functional prototype that was completed Jan. 16 during a second make-a-thon event. Pete Stephens, the Local Motors program manager for ArmyCoCreate, said the mobile command post took 55 days to complete. Discounting weekends and holidays, the vehicle task --- from project selection to completion --- involved 32 working days, he noted. The Army's crowdsourcing venture focused on creating a Lightweight Tactical All Terrain Vehicle (LTATV) equipped with command, control, communications, computers, intelligence and reconnais- sance (C4ISR) gear. The concept was to re t a Kawasaki Teryx 750cc LTATV to haul around the C4ISR capability. The modi cation effort began at the December make-a-thon hosted at Fort Benning, Ga. Stephens said about 20 soldiers, mostly of cers, participated. The rst step was a one-day training and orientation exercise in which the participants used the ArmyCoCreate collaboration platform to come up with ideas for improving the process of lling sandbags. After the orientation, the participants spent the next four days building a mock- up of the vehicle. The make-a-thon was live streamed to online participants who also contributed ideas. Stephens said one participant, an ultralight aviation enthusi- ast, provided insight on how to calculate the center of gravity when airlifting the vehicle under a helicopter. The participants used an Army Expeditionary Lab, or Ex Lab, to build the mock-up. An Ex Lab is essentially a workshop in a shipping container that REF can deploy wherever equipment needs to be fabricated. Ex Labs come equipped with gear for rapid prototyping such as 3D printers. The nal step during the January make-a-thon was to add electronics, ra- dios and 4G wireless capabilities. CHALLENGES Stephens said one of the biggest challenges of the mobile com- mand post project was coming up with the right combination of soldier, maker and engineer par- ticipants. The degree of openness was another consideration. "Our core business ... is open to the world; it is all open source design," Stephens said. But with the military "we don't want to get into a situation where we are compromising security." Stephens also said Local Mo- tors offers cash prizes or trips to motivate participation. But with military projects, altruism has been the only motivational tool thus far. "We need a better strategy than that," he said. In the meantime, Stephens said the mobile command post prototype is at a point where Local Motors could build a handful of additional vehicles and send them to a special evaluation unit at the front lines --- should the Army make such a request. The rollout of a few vehicles for testing would provide an opportunity to further iterate the design, Stephens noted. • Army crowdsources all terrain mobile command post BY JOHN MOORE 4 GCN MARCH 2014 • GCN.COM A mobile command post, built during an AutoCoCreate make-a-thon earlier this year, tested the feasibility of open-source design in the military. ARMYCOCREATE.COM