Crowdsourcing at the Department of Defense

In an effort to control costs and cut down on time, the United States military is experimenting with new ways to brainstorm and design military equipment.  Led by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, better known as DARPA, the Defense Department’s advanced research group, the Pentagon is seeking to cut down on production time by about 90%.  What’s DARPA’s big idea to do this? Crowdsourcing and prize competitions. 

Prize competitions and incentivized programs have been around for a long time, but crowdsourcing is a relatively new phenomenon, powered by advancing telecommunications technology and social media.  Essentially, it allows an unlimited number of people the ability to come together, regardless of location, to solve any problem.  Examples of this have been seen in other industries and many companies heavy in product development, Proctor & Gamble for instance, have turned to crowdsourcing as a means of innovation.  Government agencies have also turned to this model of problem solving.  “Crowd” technologies have expanded beyond commercial products to investing, known as crowdfunding.  This enables companies to raise capital through numerous smaller investors as opposed to the channels of Wall Street and high finance.  Crowdfunding recently scored a big win with the recent passage of the JOBS Act, which allowed for easier access to capital for smaller firms.

The Pentagon has now jumped on the bandwagon, using a software initiative called Vehicleforge.mil, which is essentially a Web portal where inventors and researchers can submit their design ideas to be shared and tested.  DARPA has already begun working with universities and the private sector to jumpstart this new innovation initiative, where contestants are working on developing an amphibious assault vehicle for the Marines.

This technology has the potential to drastically change the manufacturing and innovation industries because it allows for many minds to be brought together to solve problems or create and test new ideas.  As a research manager at General Electric, one of the programs partners, explains, “This is about changing the paradigm so you can rapidly design and manufacture complex systems of all kinds.”  The software used to only be employed by large companies, but now crowdsourcing has opened this up to anyone with the means and skills to contribute.  This is likely to create better, more innovative products much more quickly because the accessible pool of talent has grown exponentially.  These methods are likely to significantly alter the innovation and manufacturing landscape well into the future.  A DAPRA program manager summed it up well. “The goal…is to ‘democratize the design process.’”

Posted by Brian Gowen

Sources: The New York Times, DARPA

Photo Credit: Crowdsourcing courtesy of flickr user adesigna

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