HomeNewsArticle Display

Air Force advances innovation at “Spark Collider”

rotator

A government attendee tries on a virtual reality headset Aug. 13, 2019, as a vendor discusses his company’s product during the first-ever Spark Collider in Austin, Texas. Sponsored by AFWERX, in collaboration with other Air Force organizations, the event attracted representatives from small businesses to combine innovative ideas with vendors yielding products and policies that benefit the Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kyle Fetter)

ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS) --

The Air Force’s near obsession with innovation is well known and deeply rooted. The service’s vision statement, after all, says, “Powered by Airmen, fueled by innovation.”

Yet finding and nurturing novel ideas and turning them into real world, everyday products and policies that benefit the Air Force is no easy matter in a global organization with 685,000 Total Force men and women.

That’s one reason more than 400 people converged in Austin, Texas, Aug. 14-15, for an event the Air Force dubbed “Spark Collider.” Over those two days, Airmen with potentially good ideas mixed with officials from qualified small businesses who are in a position to help develop the ideas and bring them into reality. They also interacted with representatives from the Air Force’s major commands, from assorted program offices and other parts of the Department of Defense.

In Air Force-speak, the Spark Collider “will accelerate the matching of Air Force problems with viable solutions” by being equal parts speed dating, tech showcase and pitch sessions. The Air Force’s effort to innovate is part of a central tenet for defending the United States as outlined in the National Defense Strategy.

“To succeed in the emerging security environment,” the document states, “our department and joint force will have to out-think, out-maneuver, out-partner and out-innovate revisionist powers, rogue regimes, terrorists and other threat actors.”

“The Spark initiative helps Airmen create pathways to bring real solutions to their day-to-day pain points,” said Maj. Tony Perez, who directs Spark activities for AFWERX, the Air Force’s in-house operation to foster grass-roots innovation at the base level.

The Spark Collider combines that overarching goal with more specific – and focused – collaborations. “At the Spark Collider, Airmen get to have honest conversations with nontraditional vendors who are contract-ready and whose solutions can be executed rapidly,” Perez said.

“Through a ‘team-of-teams’ approach and the efforts of multiple program offices, Air Force Acquisitions, the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research program, various major commands and AFWERX, we are bringing tomorrow’s tools to the warfighter today,” he said.

While impressive by itself, the event in Austin was only the latest in the “spark” family of initiatives from the Air Force. All of them are designed to foster, incubate and bring to “market” innovative ideas making the Air Force more effective, more nimble and more likely to surpass mission requirements.

There is Spark Tank, the highly produced, ready-for-TV effort that features good ideas and “products” from Airmen worldwide in an elimination format to find a single winner. The 2019 winner, Master Sgt. Jonathan Maas of the 52nd Fighter Wing, Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, was on stage with then-Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Kaleth O. Wright and celebrity judges Mark Cuban and George Steinbrener IV.

There are also Spark Cells, which are a smaller but thriving collection of “innovation centers” at 47 Air Force facilities. These cells encourage Airmen to act on their idea by providing a hub and clearinghouse where they can test and refine their idea, get information for how to take next steps and benefit from “crowd sourced” experience and wisdom. All of it is designed to identify ideas and bring legitimate ones into reality.

The Air Force has also established an “ideation” website where any Airman can register, submit an idea and receive feedback, advice and insights to refine and push the idea forward.

All of them play an important role.

“It’s no overstatement to say that brilliant ideas combined with trailblazing Airmen makes today’s Air Force the most lethal and the best in the world,” said Air Force Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Stephen W. Wilson. “These programs are crucial to our success since the next ‘great’ idea, the next big innovation can emerge anywhere, at any time, from any one of our Total Force personnel. We must be ready for those moments.”

Maas’s winning idea in the Spark Tank competition is one example. His big idea was finding a way to provide continuous power to chemical detection units that previously required frequent battery changes. He is currently at the AFWERX Las Vegas Hub building his prototype of the renewable energy source that is slated to save more than $1 million in batteries and more than 10,000 hours of tedious work for Airmen each year.

His idea beat five other finalists and also illustrated an important concept – being innovative in a way that directly improves the Air Force’s ability to succeed does not always have to be big and flashy.

“The Air Force has always been known for breakthroughs,” Wilson said. “It was an Air Force pilot who broke the sound barrier. We were the first service to use stealth technology and drones. Those are well known.

“Lesser known, but no less important, are the smaller innovations that together make us more lethal and ever ready to successfully defend the country and its interests,” he said. “We are indeed fueled by innovation.”

Engage

Twitter
RT @AETCommand: 🙌🎉 Congrats to the @usairforce's newest pilots as Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 20-18 graduates today at @…
Twitter
.@JointBasePHH Airmen participate in a ramp drop from a C-17 Globemaster III. The 25th Air Support Ops Squadron is… https://t.co/AZVT6Qzmgv
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: It is a pleasure to be in #Alaska to see #Airmen and #SpaceProfessionals in action! Whether it’s F-35s & F-22s protectin…
Twitter
RT @EielsonAirForce: When @SecAFOfficial comes to visit, we show off the 'cool stuff' https://t.co/sGCSnVOOXg
Twitter
RT @USAFReserve: A career worth a thousand words: Colonel Campbell reflects on career in aviation - https://t.co/atNAeYOoMI (Story by @Dobb
Twitter
The Air Force will host the Air Force Information Technology and Cyberpower conference virtually August 24–27.… https://t.co/9pRjj6U1lp
Twitter
A Rocket Propelled Grenade was launched at a Dyess AFB C-130J in September 2019. The Airmen had to respond quickly! https://t.co/fgfNkCjA4a
Twitter
#DYK The UH-1N has a crew of three (pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer) and is capable of flight in instrument and… https://t.co/Qcj74Tk4ra
Twitter
.@GenDaveGoldfein has left a lasting impression on @HollomanAFB. #DYK Among his many tours, he was once commander o… https://t.co/ET8q1w8ywO
Twitter
The United States Air Forces in Europe Fire Academy & 86th Civil Engineer Squadron firefighters get advanced rescue… https://t.co/AUHlxm0nPt
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Thank you to the #Airmen and #SpaceProfessionals at Clear Air Force Station and @EielsonAirForce Base for sharing their…
Twitter
#DYK The F-16A, a single-seat model, first flew in December 1976. The first operational F-16A was delivered in Janu… https://t.co/B72dKcCrnr
Twitter
#DYK The C-17 made its maiden flight on Sept. 15, 1991, and the first production model was delivered to Charleston… https://t.co/edfO5R1YEm
Twitter
RT @GenDaveGoldfein: To the @PACAF Total Force #Airmen, thank you for your dedication to the mission and your spirit to serve. https://t.co…
Twitter
RT @GenDaveGoldfein: I have no doubt @PACAF will continue to grow & prosper under the steady & focused leadership of the #USAF’s newest 4-s…
Twitter
RT @GenDaveGoldfein: For the past 2 yrs, PACAF has transformed under Gen. Brown’s leadership with a new joint mission to deter aggression i…
Twitter
This technology keeps Airmen out of harm’s way when diffusing a bomb. One of the best opportunities to check out &… https://t.co/jWkN0Vbv6c
Twitter
RT @PACAF: Join us live July 8th, as Gen. CQ Brown Jr. relinquishes command of U.S. Pacific Air Forces to Gen. Kenneth S. Wilsbach. To vie…
Twitter
RT @PACAF: "Two years ago when I assumed command of Pacific Air Forces I told you that I was honored, blessed and proud. Today, I am simply…
Twitter
The Dept. of the Air Force has stood up a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force in support of both the Air Force and t… https://t.co/XS2kv8pJg6
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,250,738
Follow Us