DARPA FANG: Social product development gets serious
Yet, each of these initiatives only addresses a small part of a big problem. What if you wanted to tackle a serious problem—one that required not just design, but serious engineering as well?
Let’s say, just for fun, that you were going to put together a social product development project to create a next-generation amphibious combat vehicle for the US Marines. Something that:
- Supports countermeasures able to contend with a full range of direct fire, indirect fire, and land mine threats. Visible and thermal signature reduction technologies.
- Has the capability to transition from water to ground operations without tactical pause. Is able to maneuver with the M1A1 Abrams tank in a mechanized task force.
- Has the capability to destroy combat vehicles including those with similar firepower. Can engage targets from a distance. Can apply precision fire from a stabilized system. Provides direct fire support for dismounted infantry in an attack.
Something kind of like the Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle, which was cancelled after $3 billion was spent on development, with a total projected program cost of $15 billion.
In short, what if you wanted to put together a social product development project that could accomplish what General Dynamics (prime contractor on the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle) could not?
DARPA has been working to make this possible for the last several years, through the Adaptive Vehicle Make program. And now, they’d like to invite you to enter the FANG (Fast, Adaptable, Next-Generation Ground Vehicle) challenge. Each of the three planned challenges will focus on increasingly complex vehicle subsytems and eventually on the design of a full, heavy amphibious infantry fighting vehicle that conforms to the requirements of the Marine Corps’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV).
Yes: Now is your chance to actually design a tank, and have the government build it.
If you’re a designer or engineer with expertise in drivetrain and mobility systems, you can enter the challenge, and have the opportunity to win a $1 million prize (and that’s just for the first challenge.) Registration is open now for the first challenge that will kick off in January 2013.
Now, let me step back for a moment, and tell you what’s really interesting, to me, about this challenge. Rather than just opening up a challenge, and hoping for the best, DARPA has done their homework, and has built set of impressive tools to help competitors to actually accomplish the project goals. These tools include:
- META design tools: The tools needed to facilitate an integrated capability for compositional design synthesis at multiple levels of abstraction and probabilistic verification of system correctness with respect to realistic context models using model checking and simulation traces. Putting that in standard English: Some very cool software tools that tie together requirements, conceptual design, systems engineering, and simulation.
- C2M2L model library: Domain-specific models necessary to enable the design, verification, and fabrication of the FANG infantry fighting vehicle.
- VehicleFORGE collaboration environment: A website supporting the collaborative development of cyber-electro-mechanical systems in a manner similar to forge sites in widespread use today for the collaborative development of software by the open source community. (You folks from GrabCAD, LocalMotors, and Quirky need to check this out. It’s impressive.)
In the course of the design challenges, participants will test DARPA’s META design tools and its VehicleFORGE collaboration environment, with the ultimate goal of demonstrating that the development timetable for a complex defense system can be compressed by a factor of five.
“FANG is applying a radical approach to the design and manufacture of a military ground vehicle while seeking to engage innovators outside of the traditional defense industry,” said Army Lt. Col Nathan Wiedenman, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office. “By tapping fresh ideas and innovation, we are striving to fundamentally alter the way systems are designed, built and verified to significantly improve DoD’s capacity to handle complexity, something that has rapidly outpaced DoD’s existing 1960s-era approaches to managing it.”
Many current approaches to the development of heavy military vehicles have proven inadequate for the timely delivery of much-needed capabilities to the warfighter. FANG’s primary goal is to fundamentally alter the way systems are designed by decoupling design and fabrication and using foundry-style manufacturing to compress the development process timeline.
To my mind, the keys to making the FANG challenge work are first in providing a strong set of tools (which, from what I’ve seen, they’ve done), and, next, in attracting the right people.
If you have the experience to run a FANG challenge team, or to be a team member, get yourself over to vehicleforge.org right away.
Companies and individuals are welcome. (U.S. Citizens, lawful permanent residents, protected individuals, U.S. based corporations/businesses/partnerships/societies/organizations/groups, or federal/state/local entities.) This this contest is subject to ITAR (International Traffic in Arms Regulations.) For more information, read the official rules at http://vehicleforge.org/official-rules.