Air Force warfighters experience the future of innovation at AFWERX

  • Published
  • By Steve Warns, AFIMSC Public Affairs

A group of Air Force warfighters got a sneak peek of the future of installation and mission support innovation Feb. 27.

It’s a future they are helping create.

Finalists from the Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center’s inaugural Innovation Rodeo toured the Air Force Innovation Hub Network’s Austin, Texas, location in the Capital Factory, an incubator for technology start-ups and entrepreneurs.

Warfighters experienced virtual and augmented reality labs, and met with companies specializing in artificial intelligence, unmanned aerial vehicles and software applications.

“This is phenomenal,” said Lt. Col. Carlos Hernandez, futures and concepts division chief and section commander for the Air Force Security Forces Center, JBSA-Lackland. His idea of an artificial intelligence facial recognition system is one of eight finalists in the Innovation Rodeo.

“Days like today motivate me,” he said.

AFIMSC and AFWERX teamed up in 2018 to tackle and solve complex challenges facing Warfighters.

“Our goal is to create an ecosystem in a catalyst to get outside organizations to work together,” said Matthew Scott, AFWERX chief operations officer.

The Innovation Rodeo is part of the AFIMSC Innovation Office’s “Call for Innovation” campaign that ended Jan. 31. The campaign received 122 submissions and more than 2,000 online votes. The office selected eight ideas to advance to the rodeo March 1. Competitors with the top three ideas will try to pitch their ideas for $200,000 to get their ideas to prototype via AFWERX and tech accelerators.

 “When the field submits an idea or challenge, it doesn’t just sit on someone’s desk. We put money against it and solve problems,” said Marc Vandeveer, AFIMSC chief innovation officer, who is working to connect AFWERX’s Austin hub across the $10 billion AFIMSC enterprise  through AFIMSC’s Innovation Office.

AFWERX, which has hubs in Las Vegas and Washington, D.C., recently opened the Austin office, and AFIMSC was the first Air Force organization to partner with them. AFIMSC and AFWERX are collaborating on two projects: the AFIMSC Innovation Rodeo and leveraging unmanned aerial vehicle technology to transform the Air Force environmental program.

 “AFIMSC has a big impact at every Air Force base in the mission support groups,” said Tobby Evans, AFWERX chief of logistics and innovation project officer. “We hope to be a strategic partner that is mutually beneficial.”

Evans, who is based in San Antonio, said the partnership is going well. He volunteered to lead the Innovation Rodeo for AFWERX and started weekly meetings with the Innovation Office.

“Just having the meetings and working with the Innovation Office team, we’ve made a lot of progress in a short amount of time,” Evans said. “I think it was good that we worked together so we can learn off of the problems within the Air Force and the mission support groups, narrow it down and have this pitch competition. AFWERX can act as a fusion of capability to connect innovators and accelerate results. What we can provide is a way to connect all the dots, make things happen quickly and get results fast.”

The partnership also is an indirect revenue generator for AFIMSC, Evans said.

“We can link up a small business that has received a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant,” Evans said. “That company that is selected can use that startup money from the federal government to provide a solution to AFIMSC.

“For example, we at AFWERX can assist with the process of finding a SBIR company that would bring innovation grant research money to the table to get that solution to AFIMSC quicker. We can expedite that process quicker, and we’re good at that process.”