NORFOLK, Va. --
(Note: Some last names have been removed for security reasons.)
Innovation is no longer just a buzzword; it’s a reality (virtually) at the 363d Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing.
Over a 10-day period, the wing’s senior leadership and Airmen from the 363d ISRW worked with industry partners in a collaborative workspace right in the heart of downtown Norfolk, Virginia. The objective was to use virtual reality software to simulate notional adversary scenarios with multiple targets in various stages.
The industry partners, Entegra Systems and Immersive Wisdom, collaborate to integrate data onto Immersive Wisdom’s VR platform to create customer requested environments using agile software development, an iterative process that incorporates user feedback from start to finish.
“We see virtual and augmented reality as a key component of being able to bring all of our various kinds of complex data together and improve the way the Airmen can leverage that information and turn it into useful intelligence faster, no matter where they are located,” said Cameron Conger, chief of Data Technology and Innovation for the 363d ISRW.
The Airmen targeteers worked one-on-one with software developers learning how to use the VR while the developers watched to see what the Airmen liked or found challenging about the tool. The Airmen led the discussion, informing the developers of the challenges they face day-to-day and what systems they would like to see implemented.
“The goal is really to get targeteers to be able to see data, analyze data, collaborate on data, make decisions and present things so that they can have the commanders make a decision,” said Sara Vitkus, an industry partner project lead.
The Airmen are enthusiastic about getting in on the ground floor of the iterative process.
“I’m just really excited to be a part of this,” said Airmen 1st Class Nicole, advanced target development analyst at the 36th Intelligence Squadron. “They’re actually asking for our input on what would help us in our daily lives since we’re the ones doing the work.”
“We know what needs to be fixed, changed, made better,” said Airmen 1st Class Lysle, advanced target development analyst, also at the 36th IS. “To have people, like this team in here, really listen to us and be like, ‘Oh, that makes sense’—it was really cool.”
The 363d ISRW recently identified a need to easily work with industry in an unclassified collaborative environment to improve access to the Air Force for partners and the local startup community. This environment also provides the wing with the flexibility to rapidly change their technology footprint when needed.
“Our job is to find innovative solutions to the problems that our Airmen face and find ways to make their lives easier, make their jobs easier, more efficient,” said Capt. Corey Buran, chief of Innovation, 363d ISRW.
This VR project was the first of a series of projects the 363d ISRW has in the pipeline for the dedicated lab in the downtown collaborative workspace. There, they can work on projects, host tech outreach events, technology exchange meetings and small focused industry days with the flexibility necessary to rapidly innovate with the technology industry, academia, non-Department of Defense partners and non-traditional commercial industry.
“Being able to have those engagements in a place that’s off-base and readily accessible to anyone is a big help in that regard,” said Conger. “We don’t have the flexibility to be able to do something rapidly like this on base, so being able to go out into the community and find an environment where we could do all of this with flexibility is really huge.”
The collaborative workspace makes agile development simple and efficient, and provides an avenue to tailor software based on feedback from the Airmen of the 363d ISRW.
“It’s as easy as sitting down next to the software developers, getting in the environment and looking around, and saying, ‘What do I want right now?’” said Buran. “Then, there it is a couple days later, not even a couple days.”
“I think this shows the value of getting the tactical users out of the ops realm and giving them runway so they can innovate,” said Buran. “We got to create opportunities for the Airmen, to tell them, ‘I need a tool that can do X.’”
“By getting the Airmen involved on the ground floor, you can really see the value in making sure that when we do commit that effort to get all the approvals we need from all the different people who have a say in what goes on in government networks, that it’s going to be purposeful,” said Buran. “That’s going to result in increased mission efficiency.”
“What they’re trying to accomplish here is giving us a very user-friendly interface that is capable of compiling all of that information for us into one location so it’s readily available,” said Staff Sgt. Eric Leatham, geospatial production supervisor at the 36th IS.
Leatham said this will save time in the long run by expediting processes and giving Airmen an easy user interface that accesses everything they need.
With the VR capabilities, Airmen can work with people at different locations across the globe in the virtual space.
“I can actually start up a room in VR and bring in other users located in a different office across the country or deployed,” said Vitkus. “We can actually both come into the space; we can both collaborate on the same data set.”
The software benefits don’t stop with the 363d ISRW. Buran believes this innovation is applicable to a lot of different arenas.
“We’re finding new use cases everyday,” said Buran. “We could use it for this particular problem set that we’re facing as a Wing and really as an Air Force.