WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – The ability to quickly and accurately collect and assess atmospheric changes to execute military and humanitarian operations is critical to today’s warfighter executing missions in increasingly remote and complex battlespaces. Current mobile weather platforms, used since the 1960s, rely on helium—a heavy, scarce and costly resource—carried by hand to remote regions.
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Advanced Power Technology Office is turning to the public as they seek a creative, cost effective solution to the mobile weather challenge—with $27,000 in prize money up for grabs.
In partnership with the Wright Brothers Institute, Air Force Special Operations Command and the Battlefield Airmen System Program Office, the APTO team challenges public innovators to propose a design for a novel, low-cost, man-portable weather system capable of collecting and analyzing atmospheric data from the ground level up to 10,000 feet or higher. The overall best system proposal will receive $15,000 in prize money, with the second place winner awarded $9,000 for overall capability and a single part solution winner awarded $3,000 for the proposal that best solves either 1) the transport concept (getting the sensor to altitude) or 2) the sensor concept (collecting and transmitting data) better than the first and second place winners.
Challenge and prize competitions are one resource that federal agencies use to drive innovation by inviting the public to help to solve perplexing, mission-centric dilemmas. An agency “seeker” poses a problem or question to the public, and “solvers” respond and submit solutions.
“We are looking for new ideas and innovative methods to safely, effectively and precisely measure atmospheric conditions,” said 1st Lt. Jason Goins, an APTO project engineer. “If we could replace the current weather balloon system with an improved device to pinpoint such characteristic like wind speed and direction for dropping vital supplies for the warfighter, it would be invaluable.”
In an increasingly complex battle space, with friendly forces located only a few hundred yards from adversaries, the need to accurately drop critical items to Airmen is paramount to mission success. The current helium-powered weather balloons are outdated and provide a number of operational challenges, ranging from cost, to portability and fuel sourcing issues, particularly in remote regions.
Alternative ways to acquire weather data that cost less and take advantage of today’s technology can make a difference in both battlefield as well as humanitarian operations.
Innovators can submit proposals through www.challenge.gov, which is the government’s vehicle for seeking novel solutions to agency problems using tools such as prizes and challenges. For this challenge, innovators are asked to design a system able to sense wind direction and speed, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure and density altitude from ground level up to 10,000 feet. This aerial platform must be capable of carrying sensors to the proper altitude to gather data that can be assessed by operators on-the-spot to determine optimal drop points for mission activities.
Systems that meet minimum requirements will be graded against each other based on their ability to go even higher, be automated and maintain low costs.
“We want people to think ‘outside of the box,’” said Goins. “There are innovators everywhere.”
To learn more and to submit a proposal, visit https://www.challenge.gov/challenge/mobile-weather-station/.
The AFRL APTO team and the Wright Brothers Institute will review the proposals to determine the best solution for an efficient, cost-effective system that meets the warfighter needs.
The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Advanced Power Technology Office, based out of the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, works to find ways to integrate state-of-the-art, energy efficient technologies to augment Air Force efforts towards increased energy resilience at decreased costs.
Marisa Alia-Novobilski contributed to this story.