The AFWERX Fusion 2020 Base of the Future virtual event this week is to showcase 370 proposals that are in the running for U.S. Air Force prototype contracts for artificial intelligence and other capabilities to address six challenges for future DoD bases. AFWERX selected the 370 out of 1,700 submissions.
Those challenges include improving base security and defense while increasing efficiency and effectiveness; increasing base resiliency by creating stronger infrastructure and the ability to rebound quickly; leveraging technology for operational effectiveness; creating a culture of innovation to allow the free sharing of ideas on base and increasing the speed of technology adoption; improving the well-being of airmen and their families as they face moves and other stresses; and reverse engineering legacy parts with the latest additive and agile manufacturing technologies.
AI is to feature in this week’s virtual event in addressing a number of areas, including readiness.
“Readiness is clearly a problem for the U.S. Air Force particularly when it comes to training our pilots, but furthermore going through the processes of ensuring that each of those pilots or instructor pilots are ready at any point in time,” Air Force Capt. Michael Kanaan, the director of operations for the Air Force/MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator, told reporters on July 27 in response to a question on AI during a pre-event Zoom discussion. “Just last week, the Air Force in concert with the [Air Force] Chief Data Office and the MIT AI Accelerator posted our first Datathon on a project called Puckboard.”
The latter venture, a modern scheduling website to enable real time, collaborative scheduling, is to deliver AI for optimizing aircrew scheduling for Boeing [BA] C-17 transports, as scheduling C-17 squadron aircrew can be time-consuming, manually intensive, and prone to errors, thus leading to unpredictability, poor work-life balance for aircrews, missed training opportunities, and wasted funding.
“As it stands now, we have optimization on three different, underlying parameters that spit out a viable model and illuminate new insights and strategies into how would we train up those pilots to ensure their current certifications are ready to go for readiness, for instance,” Kanaan said. “The effort right now is deployed at two bases with artificial intelligence in in the field, and then this Datathon ended up resulting in six new minimal, viable solutions on a new algorithm that we aim to deploy in the coming weeks.”
Kanaan also noted ongoing work by the Air Force/MIT Artificial Intelligence Accelerator on signal enhancement for magnetic navigation. The JuliaCon 2020 virtual workshop is to discuss the challenge.
“Harnessing the earth’s magnetic field for navigation has shown plenty of promise as a viable alternative to other navigation systems, like GPS,” he said. “When we talk about how we can operate in these contested or denied areas, we can use variances in the earth’s magnetic sphere in order to discover that and then not need the necessary connection back to the satellite infrastructure.”
The AFWERX Base of the Future initiative took root from Hurricane Michael’s destruction of Tyndall AFB, Fla., in October 2018. COVID-19 has delayed a planned reopening of Tyndall, which sustained more than $4 billion in damage from Hurricane Michael and which moved Lockheed Martin [LMT] F-22 fighters belonging to the 325th Fighter Wing to Eglin AFB, Fla., after the hurricane. The latter damaged some of those fighters. In September 2023, Tyndall is to begin receiving 72 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II fighters.
“As you have heard from our Air Force leadership just over the last couple of weeks, they see AFWERX as an opportunity to reach out, as we see a world where likely we’re not going to have funding to spend in the ways that we have,” Air Force Col. Nathan Diller, the director of AFWERX, told reporters on July 27 during the Zoom discussion. “We have to open this network out. We have to get the best ideas that come from our airmen, from the innovators across the ecosystem, those start-up companies that are out there.”
The Air Force has been working with AT&T [T] to rebuild Tyndall’s communications infrastructure around 5G, which is to begin operation at the base this year, as Tyndall rebuilds over the next five years. 5G is to improve flight and maintenance operations at the base.
Mark Rowland, the innovation actualizer for AFWERX, said that AFWERX has received AI and 5G applications for the Base of the Future initiative. “All of those submissions have been evaluated, and the next phase will be to pick some of those companies, give them some prototyping funding, and then start to do some experimentation with the Tyndall team,” he said. “That will be an outcome that will come from this week’s activities.”