Innovators from throughout U.S. Edwards Air Force Base (AFB), California, presented their innovative ideas in a Spark Tank showcase. The showcase featured the top 15 ideas from a recent crowd-sourced campaign run on the Guardians Airmen Innovation Network platform organized by SparkED, the 412th Test Wing Innovation Team and garnered almost 80 submissions.
The Spark Tank is modeled after the TV program, “Shark Tank.” Participants were instructed to provide a three-minute video to show their ideas to panel of expert judges. The judges were allocated time to ask follow up questions to the presenters.
At the end of the showcase, one idea was chosen above others; the idea belonged to Tech. Sgt. Robert Gregory from the 412th Operations Support Squadron’s Test Parachute Team. He pitched a military free-fall simulator that the unit’s parachutists can train on.
“Parachuting in the military, in general, is an already inherently dangerous program,” Gregory said. “We’ve all seen injuries, we've all seen death, and we're trying to limit that and keep our people alive.”
Gregory explained that outside of using an actual parachute for training or familiarization, classroom instruction does not provide an immersive learning environment that parachutists require.
“Flying that parachute from the time you exit the aircraft from the time you land on the ground, you get a far better quality of training when it comes to virtual reality,” he said.
Gregory said that the showcase was intimidating at first, however he realized how important and potentially life-saving his idea is.
“At first, it's intimidating, and then you have to think…you're passionate about something, right? You've seen your buddies get hurt, you've seen people, unfortunately pass away from this community, and you really want to make sure that your idea comes across,” Gregory explained. “I wanted to make sure that I gave them the proper details to hopefully give a good decision.”
Gregory will now work with SparkED to plan and coordinate how to bring the virtual reality training capability to Edwards AFB.
It had previously been two years since SparkED was able to host a Spark Tank showcase due to the Covid-19 pandemic, however organizers believed organizing a physical showcase can have a bigger impact.
“People always ask, you know, ‘why go through the motions of a showcase?’ Well, we really want to have that engagement and we really want to show how to pitch ideas…And also getting out that innovation mindset, do you want people to understand that maybe you don't have the foolproof solution, and we're okay with that,” said Britney Reed, 412th TW, XPOI Chief Innovation Officer.