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Group strives for 'disruptive' sailor-driven ideas

Mar. 29, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Chief of Naval Operations' Rapid Innovation Cell workers show off their wares: Lt. Jackie Kvinsland, left, with Google Glass and 3-D printouts, poses with project engineer Jim Lambeth and Lt. Eric Regnier.
Chief of Naval Operations' Rapid Innovation Cell workers show off their wares: Lt. Jackie Kvinsland, left, with Google Glass and 3-D printouts, poses with project engineer Jim Lambeth and Lt. Eric Regnier. (Submitted photo)
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A small group of big minds is working to bring a host of nifty gadgets and concepts to the fleet, hoping to make sailors’ lives easier and save time and money in the process.

The Chief of Naval Operations’ Rapid Innovation Cell, or CRIC, is a team of “disruptive thinkers,” Navy Warfare Development Command innovation division chief Cmdr. Ben Salazar told Navy Times.

Last year, the group installed a 3-D printer on the amphibious assault ship Essex to help supply make their parts, from the casters on rolling chairs to clips for shower curtains. Now they’re unveiling their new projects, which they’ll work on throughout the yearlong program.

Here’s what you need to know about their latest efforts:

1 Floating FOB. Ships could learn a thing or two from war-zone bases, said Lt. Jason Knudson, an information warfare officer based at Navy Information Operations Command.

Knudson’s idea is to turn a ship into a floating forward operating base, with all of the command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability you usually find on land, but floating offshore in shallow water.

Salazar said there will be a test run this summer in Norfolk, Va.

2 “Human-powered” ships. Sailors’ waste could someday fuel their bases and ships.

Current technology makes it possible to harvest methane gas from food waste and excrement and turn it into electricity. But that requires a floating lagoon — which eats up a lot of space.

This believe-it-or-not scale leap depends on new solid-state digestion technology, which uses something like a large garbage bin to trap methane. From there, it can be siphoned off to run electric generators.

“It does still require a bit of real estate, and we’re looking at the environmental issues,” Salazar said. “Least of all, methane stinks. You need to control the odor.”

Ships powered by food scraps, human waste and other organic refuse could save time and money.

“One of the biggest things that limits a war-fighting ship’s readiness is that every once in a while, they’ve got to go get gas,” Salazar said. “If you’re recycling waste and producing power from it, that just increases your readiness.”

3 High-def drone cable. Suspended Undersea Raw Fiber, or SURF, is a fiber-optic cable that runs underwater between two points to transfer data. In a recent field test, a Navy team mounted a $50 camera onto an unmanned boat, streaming the feed back to a command center by running SURF under the water.

The cable’s bandwidth capacity allows for much higher-quality video than wireless options.

“Imagine watching YouTube streaming on your phone, going from [cellular] tower to tower, as opposed to having a [high-definition] cable streaming right to your laptop,” Salazar said.

4 Play time. CRIC is testing the concept that sailors with more time off will yield innovation (rather than horseplay). It’s modeled off Google’s “20% Time,” a program that allows employees one day a week to work on their personal projects. It’s the program that spawned Gmail.

In a Navy context, it’s playing out on the San Diego-based destroyer Benfold thanks to CRIC member Lt. Dave Nobles, who asked his commanding officer for one day a week to work on projects. His CO agreed to give each sailor one day a quarter to work on a project they they think would better the Navy.

“The sailors and the deck plates have great ideas, and the Navy and the military have always had a tradition of being innovative,” Knudson said. “Our complaining sailor is the sailor that’s changing the Navy.”

5 Have an idea? You don’t have to be a CRIC member to get your project off the ground.

To get your idea moving, send a message to CRIC at

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