Four startup companies, including Corona, California-based vRotors, which operates a live drone racing platform, were each selected to receive $50,000 to demonstrate their respective technologies for the Marine Corps through a National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) 5G Starts prize challenge event. The March event was aimed at highlighting the Department of Defense’s (DOD) interest and investment in 5G technology and the companies that provide it.
“The SoCal Tech Bridge reached out to us because one of the four companies selected for NSIN’s prize challenge happens to be located within our geographical innovation ecosystem,” said Inland Empire Tech Bridge Director Troy Clarke.
Clarke reached out to Norco College, a longstanding Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Corona Division and Inland Empire Tech Bridge education partner, which agreed to host the Inland Empire leg of test flights for the region. There, vRotors demonstrated their 4G- and 5G-connected technology for telemetry-driven mixed reality for off-base situational awareness using remotely operated drones.
During the test flight event, NSWC Corona Communication System Engineer Ben Fellows joined Marines and other subject matter experts in piloting the drones, which flew in real time about 10 miles from ground control at the college.
“This collaboration is a great example of how connecting with one Tech Bridge is essentially connecting with them all and harnessing the power of the NavalX network, which connects, reinforces and sustain regional ecosystems of innovation into a national acquisitions network.” said Clarke. “If there’s something you need outside of your geographical area, you can leverage another Tech Bride to help make those necessary connections.”
The DOD has pegged 5G technology as a key modernization priority and plans to invest in acquiring and developing associated capabilities for use across military installations and forward operating environments. Because a variety of 5G-related technologies will lend aid to the American warfighter’s technological capabilities at home and abroad, prize challenges like 5G Starts help the DOD identify and leverage the potential of 5G-related startups to support those capabilities.
“The Inland Empire Tech Bridge and NSWC Corona are both in technical alignment with the DOD’s 5G goals through our Range Systems Engineering Department expertise and our Tech Bridge focus on networked data environments,” said Clarke. “In this case, the 5G network provided that networked data environment.”
Notably, the SoCal Tech Bridge also deployed the first-ever 5G small-cell tower technology on a military base at the 5G Living Lab at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar under a cooperative research and development agreement with Verizon and Qualcomm.
“In our Range Systems Engineering Department, we are always looking for next-generation range capability and infrastructure to support the training systems on our ranges,” said Fellows. “Demo Day was a great opportunity to connect with some of the people we are in discussions with about the future of 5G pilots, such as the 5G lead engineer at Naval Information Warfare Center Pacific, to observe and identify any potential opportunities for training ranges to leverage new technology.”
Tech Bridges are designed to function as “Super connectors,” bridging the gaps and reducing barriers between the Navy and non-traditional partners like startups, small businesses, academia, non-profits and private capital to identify emerging solutions to warfighter challenges. Through close collaboration with regional partners, Tech Bridges increase access to local innovation ecosystems and allow the military to harness advancements in industry. Since their inception, Tech Bridges have become a high-performing network of collaborators, fostering the use of agile authorities and accelerating project timelines.
“This was an opportunity for us to coordinate with one of our local Tech Bridge partners to provide logistical support for a sister Tech Bridge, while also bringing our partners to Norco to showcase the technology and give them a firsthand glimpse at the types of projects we’re working on,” said Clarke.
According to NavalX, it typically takes about 10 years for new technology to become a program of record and get into the hands of warfighters. As the United States continues to compete with its near-peers and adversaries in the Great Power Competition, accelerating that process and delivering emerging technologies faster is more important than ever.
“The test was a success,” said Clarke. “Using virtual and augmented reality, the pilots were able to have a fully integrated picture of the remote location ten miles away, plus a digital ‘twin’ version that simulated a situation where you may not have a visible camera feed. You can imagine how that would be helpful in a real-world military evolution. The pilots could easily toggle back and forth between the digital twin landscapes. It was fascinating to witness.”
For more information on NavalX and its network of Tech Bridges, visit www.secnav.navy.mil/agility.
NSWC Corona Division has served as the Navy's independent assessment agent since 1964. With more than 3,900 engineers, scientists and support personnel, Sailors and contractors, NSWC Corona is located in Norco, California, with detachments in Fallbrook and Seal Beach and personnel in 14 additional locations. Anchor to the Inland Empire Tech Bridge, the Naval Sea Systems Command field activity provides transparency for warfighting readiness through data analytics and assessment, engineers the fleet’s Live Virtual Constructive training environment, and assures the accuracy of measurements as the engineering advisor for the Navy and Marine Corps metrology and calibration programs.
Candice Villarreal, candice.villarreal@Navy.mil
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