Air Force Launches Open Innovation Pavilion

In partnership with the Wright Brothers Institute, the U.S. Air Force Research Lab this week launched a new Open Innovation Pavilion on InnoCentive, an online innovation marketplace where more than a quarter million of the world’s brightest minds solve tough problems for cash awards.

The newly launched Pavilion already features more than $100,000 in prizes for novel solutions to four tough challenges facing the U.S. Air Force:

  • The Design and Simulation of an Accurate Shooter-Locator competition challenges innovators to develop a method to detect small arms fire within a fraction of a second and accurately pinpoint its source;
  • The Humanitarian Air Drop challenge seeks novel ways to drop humanitarian supplies into populated areas without danger of falling debris to the people below;
  • The Vehicle Stopper challenge seeks a viable, sustainable, and affordable means of stopping an uncooperative fleeing vehicle without permanent damage to the vehicle or harm to any of its passengers; and
  • The Remote Human Demographic Characterization challenge seeks a system that can determine the approximate age and gender of small groups of people at a distance.

The Air Force Open Innovation Pavilion is just the latest milestone in the Obama Administration’s efforts to increase the use of prizes and challenges to spur innovation and solve tough problems.  In March 2010, the Office of Management and Budget issued a formal policy framework to guide agency leadership in using prizes to advance their core mission.  In September 2010, the Administration launched, a one-stop shop where entrepreneurs and citizen solvers can find public-sector prizes. And in January, the President signed the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, providing all agencies with broad authority to conduct prize competitions. As a result, in the first six months alone, has featured more than 70 challenges from more than 25 agencies across the Executive Branch.

For example, in 2010 NASA piloted a series of science and technical challenges core to its mission in the NASA Innovation Pavilion.  One of the challenges sought a forecasting algorithm to protect America’s astronauts from radiation exposure in space.  Over 500 problem solvers from 53 countries answered NASA’s call.  Expecting no solutions for this long intractable problem, NASA received a solution that exceeded their requirements from a retired radio-frequency engineer in rural New Hampshire.  The winner had never before responded to a government request for proposals, let alone worked with NASA. Yet his winning approach forecast solar proton events with 85 percent accuracy, a result NASA dubbed “outstanding.”

Who will be the next unexpected solver? To share your expertise and compete for cash prizes visit

Robynn Sturm is Advisor for Open Innovation to the Deputy Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy

Your Federal Tax Receipt