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Open For Autonomous Business: Largest-Ever Unmanned & Robotics Systems Research Contract Awarded For NPS
MONTEREY, Calif. (NPS) – Military students at the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) have firsthand experience with complex challenges in the fleet and the field. They come to NPS to work alongside expert faculty researchers to develop solutions to key operational problems. Combining the art and science of their NPS education, students engage in solutions-focused experimentation, invention and innovation to realize the full potential of emerging technologies, many of which are in the growing arena of intelligent autonomous systems.
Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) awarded an Information Analysis Center (IAC) Multi-Award Contract (MAC) Task Order to Adams Communication and Engineering Technology, Inc. (ACET) to support NPS’ largest-ever Task Order contract to expand partnerships in the development and fielding of autonomous systems and robotics – $42.4 million. ACET, with support from their exclusive subcontractor Arizona State University Research Enterprise (ASURE), will provide NPS coordination and management for the contract’s deliverables as defined in the Government’s Performance Work Statement.
NPS is already the largest single contributor to the DTIC library, which supports all of the DOD, and this contract ensures that the knowledge generated by NPS and its partners will be rapidly incorporated and accessible.
The new contract vehicle increases access to work with NPS alongside student-faculty teams and collaboratively reach optimal results faster leveraging the readily accessible test ranges, labs and facilities. Sponsoring activities send funded projects to NPS who will work with DTIC to place task orders on the contract.
“NPS provides the interdisciplinary, defense-focused environment needed for the right mix of development and exploratory innovation,” said Dr. Ray Buettner, NPS associate professor of information sciences, and director of the Sea Land Air Military Research (SLAMR) initiative, who oversaw development of the new contract. “The Navy has many labs full of scientists and engineers, but the one thing they need, that NPS has, is the experience of our military student body to help guide development, and this new contract makes working with NPS very easy to do.”
Put another way, the best translator of operational need to the Naval research and development community is an experienced, NPS-educated operator.
The new contract award is timely. Recognition of NPS’ ability to combine operational experience with research came in two recent developments: first, an update to the school’s mission directing it to be more outcome-focused on “technological leadership,” and second, the formal inclusion of NPS into the Naval Research and Development Establishment (NR&DE), which comprises all Naval Warfare Centers, the Naval Research Laboratory and the Office of Naval Research.
Dr. Jeff Paduan, NPS dean of research explained that NPS, now as a chartered member the NR&DE, led by the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, “will have a seat at the Department of the Navy’s (DON) research table when the lab directors meet.”
A new Memorandum of Understanding (MOA) between NPS and the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) in Keyport, Washington, builds upon existing research relations in unmanned systems, and will focus on expanding technical coordination with NR&DE labs by leveraging the flexibility of the NPS’ “.edu” networks creating a digital collaborative enterprise.
David Mortimore, senior technology advisor at NUWC Keyport, NPS liaison and PhD student will act as co-principal investigator for the digital enterprise framework that will improve connections between dispersed NR&DE collaborators and NPS. Mortimore said, “My work under the MOA will help NPS strengthen existing ties and lay the foundation for broader community formation, discovery and collaboration envisioned by Dr. Buettner, and real-time distributed R&D across the NR&DE.”
Every student at NPS must complete a research thesis or capstone project, explained Buettner. The new contract with ACET will expand student involvement in the design, development and testing of prototype hardware and software for unmanned and robotic systems. Buettner foresees this increased collaboration as expanding the value of NPS to naval forces.
One example Buettner used to illustrate the value of research collaboration with NPS was a small drone company that participated a recent Joint Interagency Field Experimentation (JIFX). The company demonstrated that autonomous drone technology used in agriculture had potential national security applications which lead to contracts with DARPA, the Army and Naval Air Systems Command. With the new DTIC contract in place the process is streamlined for sponsoring activities to engage NPS students and faculty directly in the prototyping process. The next JIFX at NPS will be September 14-17.
Buettner summarized the importance of the new contract to the future of NPS and DON, saying, “We are the only service that must have the capability and knowhow to apply and employ autonomous systems effectively within and across all warfighting domains: at sea, ashore, air, space and cyber. Our new mission and new partnerships will enhance the research-based education here at NPS and accelerate delivery of technological advantages in intelligent autonomous systems.”