The Navy is doubling the number of technology collaboration centers that it operates to improve collaboration with organizations that do not traditionally work with the military.
The “Tech Bridges” are large collaboration spaces around the country where the Navy can work directly with academia and the private sector, beyond the confines of military bases, on challenges unique to the service. The Navy currently has six, and says it is standing up six more across the country, with collaborators already waiting to get started in many cases.
The goal is creating “networks and collaboration” and awarding contracts to small business and nontraditional defense technology companies, assistant secretary for research development and acquisition, James “Hondo” Geurts, said during a virtual press conference Tuesday.
“This is not the end, I see expanding this further,” Geurts said of the program that will now house offices in 10 different states.
The tech accelerator-like spaces are organized under the Naval Expeditions Agility Office, or “NavalX” office. Stood up in 2018, NavalX operates similar to the military’s other small-business outreach programs — like the Air Force’s AFWERX program — but it focuses on creating on-going collaborative relationships with partners instead of primarily focusing on issuing contracts.
“We are not going to duplicate just for the sake of duplicating,” Geurts said of other military services’ programs. He added that the tech bridges are “creating the platform for us to get together.”
Focus areas for the program include emerging technologies like machine learning, high-powered computing and advanced data analytics.
Cmdr. Sam Gray, the director of the Tech Bridge program, said the expansion comes as the first six have shown significant progress in getting new ideas to the Navy and money to new vendors. The Tech Bridge network has been helping to distribute millions of dollars to small businesses that work with the Navy to help keep them afloat during the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have seen tremendous success in the first six locations,” Gray said.
While gathering in groups is largely prohibited during the coronavirus pandemic, Geurts said Tech Bridge will offer larger spaces than conference room for when some, socially distant, events are permitted. He added that the Wi-Fi is often strong at the collaboration centers and can support large video conference calls. Geurts himself and Gray spoke on a video conference from a Tech Bridge in Northern Virginia.
Tech Bridges office space is “even more valuable when we can’t get together in a traditional way,” Geurts said.