Project shows collaboration key to innovation success

Innovation means using a new idea, method, or device. So to step away from the status quo, someone pursuing innovation may have to look for answers beyond the usual, and one method encouraged by Edwards AFB innovators is collaboration.

Edwards’ Experimentation Center for Ideas/Technology Exploration team – XCITE team for short – actively engages in collaboration by reaching out to other units, other military branches, and with civilian organizations pursuing similar goals to foster innovation.  

In 2016, XCITE took several trips to learn more about cultivating innovation. One such visit was to attend the Ignite Summit, hosted by Spigit, where the brightest minds in innovation gathered to share stories, connect and learn, according to the XCITE newsletter. Spigit is the largest provider of innovation management software for Fortune 500 companies.

A visit to Lockheed Martin Skunkworks to meet with their team and to hear firsthand accounts of their innovation culture was also beneficial, according to XCITE members.

The team also spent a day in a conference room at Walt Disney Imagineering’s research and development facility in Glendale, California, with a team of Disney Imagineers who shared their views and methods for fostering innovation.

But while innovation field trips may be beneficial to learning, collaboration on projects is beneficial to progress, XCITE team members say. One example of this is a project presented to the team toward the end of 2016.

Dubbed HELIOS, for Holistic Empirical Lucent Innovative Optical System, the project combines objective optical system measurements using advanced innovative software tools written by the 775th Test Squadron’s Electro-Optics Engineering Team with a new state-of-the-art Precision Impact Range Area target system, currently early in the acquisition stages, along with state-of-the-art models for human interpretation of imagery built by the Army Night Vision Electronics and Sensors Directorate, along with other technologies, according to program manager Ron Hardgrove.

“The Electro-Optics Engineering Team partnered with the 412th Range Squadron and, with support from the XCITE innovation team under the 412th Test Wing, is driving flight test of United States Air Force and allies’ electro-optics systems into the future,” Hardgrove said.

The Air Force Research Laboratory Sensors Directorate and Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake Electro-Optics Engineering Team also helped in the acquisition of the PIRA targets, he added.

“As the Greek Titan god of the sun, HELIOS was only fitting for the name of a project that seeks to drive the flight test of systems that provide imagery using light, into the future.”

Historically, flight test of these systems included extensive flight time, aircrews and complex experimental design. Factor in the subjective nature of humans, atmospheric variation and system variables, and you have an enormous, expensive program only capturing a very small portion of the “sensor envelope,” leaving a great deal of unknown to our warfighters, according to Hardgrove.

Measuring the main electro-optics system performance metrics that drive combat identification (sensitivity and resolution) directly would vastly increase test sensitivity by eliminating the human subjectivity, in turn reducing flight test time and cost by as much as 90 percent. These techniques also open doors to new test capabilities.

“Imagine being able to estimate the probability of target detection, recognition and identification using an electro-optics system at any look angle, airspeed, altitude, weather condition, system setting, etc…with an inexpensive, robust test campaign,” Hardgrove said. “HELIOS is the future of electro-optics flight test and evaluation at the Air Force Test Center.”

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