AFWERX Challenge offers USAF Air Crew Helmet Innovations

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AFWERX’s Challenge program recently brought together U.S. Air Force pilots, researchers, inventors, and potential commercial vendors toward the development of a prototype replacement for the branch's current generation Fixed Wing Aircrew Helmet. Part trade expo, part crowd-sourced solutions generator, an international mix of 35+ companies presented their ideas and products at Enclave Las Vegas, Nov. 14, 2018. Participants from the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia focused on solving problems such as helmet weight, thermal management, integration with systems, and lack of a customizable fit.

During the second day of the event,  a select number of companies were invited back—including both full-helmet solution providers and component providers—to discuss and assess their potential to develop prototypes by May 2019. These companies will potentially be awarded prototyping funding to produce what may be the next helmet keeping airmen safe.

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“It’s not only exciting but very impressive what we’ve been able to accomplish over a span of 20 weeks. We have been able to reach many non-traditional defense companies, that until now have been unresponsive to traditional market research methods. Now, thanks to AFWERX, we have emerging technologies at our fingertips, ready to integrate into systems for our warfighters. We are executing our leadership's rapid-prototyping direction and ‘bringing the future faster’—exciting times ahead!” says Air Force 1st Lt. Naomi Harper, Aircrew Performance Program Manager.

The AFWERX Vegas innovation hub was started in 2017, and is funded by the Air Force to support outreach to the business and academic communities. The location is one of three AFWERX Innovation Hubs—the others are in Austin, Texas and the District of Columbia. Each serves as a nexus for generating and hosting activities—whether on-site, online, or on-base—focused on delivering design solutions to problems faster, more effectively, and more efficiently than in the past.

"Because we're located in Las Vegas, Nevada, we're ideally positioned to welcome subject matter experts from the nearby Creech and Nellis air force bases; academics from the University of Nevada and elsewhere; small-business fly-ins from places like Silicon Valley and Austin, Texas; and to capitalize on large-scale business synergies around key national events, such as the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES)," says Mark Rowland, who serves as the chief Innovations Actualizer" for AFWERX Vegas.

The process is only one of a growing number of AFWERX design challenges slated for the calendar year 2019. Projects currently in play include:

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While AFWERX projects may vary in approach and timeline, many involve online design competitions that are open to Airmen, entrepreneurs, inventors, academics, and manufacturers. Of particular interest are manufacturers of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) or "dual-use" products—those that may have both civilian and military applications. All are encouraged to pitch their ideas through the AFWERX Challenge website www.AFWERXchallenge.com. Participants can then add their suggestions, find potential collaborators, and may be invited to eventually meet up for further presentation and collaboration at the Vegas hub.

For more information on AFWERX, visit: www.afwerxdc.org.

As envisioned by U.S. Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson in 2017, AFWERX is intended to solve some of the toughest challenges that the Air Force faces, through innovation and collaboration amongst our nation’s top subject-matter experts. The world is changing quickly—new technologies, new threats, and new opportunities. AFWERX taps into the power of creativity and empowers intentional innovation that unleashes emergent approaches for the warfighter through a community of intrapreneurs, industry, academia, and non-traditional contributors. AFWERX has the ability "to bring together our nation’s best and brightest to collaborate, innovate, fabricate, and present accelerated results to the United States Air Force to better serve our No. 1 customer: the warfighter and operators in the Air Force."

Randy BrownShowcase, Helmet, Prototype