‘Supply-Chain Challenge’ Teams to Develop Tests for Suspect Electronic Devices

Karthic Mandanagopol of Knowledge Based Information Systems, Inc. discusses supply-chain provenance techniques with other participants at the showcase challenge held May 29-30 at the AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub. Select participants will move on to a prototyping phase that will culminate in November 2019. The entire AFWERX innovations process will take less than 12 months, from initial challenge to prototype assessment. Photo by AFWERX Vegas

Karthic Mandanagopol of Knowledge Based Information Systems, Inc. discusses supply-chain provenance techniques with other participants at the showcase challenge held May 29-30 at the AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub. Select participants will move on to a prototyping phase that will culminate in November 2019. The entire AFWERX innovations process will take less than 12 months, from initial challenge to prototype assessment. Photo by AFWERX Vegas

LAS VEGAS—The scenario: A commercial drone—technically, a “small Unmanned Aircraft System” (sUAS)—is found by U.S. Air Force security personnel charged with protecting a nearby military installation. The Airmen must quickly and accurately determine whether the device represents a security threat.

Additionally, the origin of each hardware and software component—its supply-chain “provenance”—must be determined. Does any part come from a potentially unfriendly source? Finally, in conducting the security check, the device must not be physically altered or destroyed.

Thanks to AFWERX Vegas, select groups of innovative vendors will put their concepts and products to just such a test. Challenge finalists will be offered contracts to further develop their prototypes, which will be assessed concurrent with the International Test Conference, Nov. 12-14, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

Mark Rowland, Innovation Actualizer at the AFWERX Vegas hub, anticipates up to two or three teams of vendors may be working together at the event. “We’re going to put something in front of them, and have them tell us where every component came from: ‘Tell us what’s safe and what’s not.’” Solutions will be judged on three criteria: Time, Accuracy, and Resources required.

The AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub was started in 2017 and is funded by the U.S. 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 focused on delivering design solutions to Air Force problems faster, more effectively, and more efficiently than in the past.

In January 2019, the initial AFWERX “Microelectronics Supply Chain Provenance” Challenge stated the design problem in more detail:

We are looking for non-destructive methods, techniques, and tools to trace the parts of any [Commerical Off-the-Shelf, or “COTS] assembly (hardware and software) to prove provenance and suitability for use in military applications in a cost-effective manner. That includes the method of assembly, the source of boards, components, packaging, microchips, Intellectual Property blocks (or custom designs), process technology, the foundry of origin, raw materials.

More than 20 vendors participated in showcase challenge event held May 29-30 at the AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub. The first day consisted of informal tabletop exhibits along with private pitch sessions, during which participants were also encouraged to seek out opportunities for potential collaboration. Photo by AFWERX Vegas

More than 20 vendors participated in showcase challenge event held May 29-30 at the AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub. The first day consisted of informal tabletop exhibits along with private pitch sessions, during which participants were also encouraged to seek out opportunities for potential collaboration. Photo by AFWERX Vegas

On May 29-30, more than 20 teams competed in a two-day showcase challenge event at the AFWERX Vegas Innovation Hub. On the first day, in tabletop presentations, vendors pitched potential solutions that featured their own COTS products—”dual-purpose” solutions that can readily be repurposed to solve Air Force problems.

Participants were also encouraged to mingle with their peers, and to look for opportunities for potential collaborations. On the second day, AFWERX team members met with select participants, in order to further discuss potential partnerships among presenters. Several “team of teams” were formed, and will be funded to co-create prototypes to be put to the test in at November’s International Test Conference.

Finalists from the showcase challenge included (in alphabetical order):

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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 in an “outside the fence” environment, through innovation and collaboration amongst the nation’s top subject-matter experts. The world is changing quickly—new technologies, new threats, and new opportunities.

To learn more about AFWERX, visit: www.afwerx.af.mil

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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."