Since 2002, Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) field research programs, such as the quarterly Joint Interagency Field Experimentation (JIFX) program, have had the primary goal of getting new innovative capabilities into the hands of the warfighter, faster. Not allowing the COVID-19 pandemic to slow this effort, NPS researchers modified JIFX 20-4 into a virtual, hybrid event that continued JIFX’s long-standing tradition of connecting innovators from the military, academia and commercial industry to learn about emerging technologies and solve today’s tough national security challenges.
Usually hosted at the NPS Field Lab at Camp Roberts, this event used online collaborative tools to bring approximately 230 technology experts from 50 private companies, five universities, and varied government agencies together, Sept. 14-18. The attendees participated in virtual seminars, workshops and panel discussions focused on experimentation, and working with the government. And, as always with JIFX, participants conducted live experimentation, with a focus on autonomous systems and cybersecurity tests of those systems, all while remaining in the virtual environment.
According to Dr. Ray Buettner, NPS Associate Professor of Information Sciences and JIFX Director, JIFX is an interdisciplinary and multi-institutional partnership where the best and brightest experts and entrepreneurs can get more educated regarding the challenges facing the warfighter, and the government can advance emerging technologies that can be quickly adapted for the warfighter.
“The current pandemic has not diminished the need to create shared understanding between the entrepreneurs creating emerging technologies, and the national security experts who will incorporate these technologies for the nation’s defense,” said Buettner. “The hybrid JIFX event demonstrated that the Naval Postgraduate School is able to continue to serve as an important intersection of knowledge exchange through the employment of the latest commercial and government communications tools.”
Through the live discussions and meetings, attendees had the opportunity to network, learn how industry could work with NPS faculty and students conducting research, and demonstrate their own new capabilities during a virtual technology expo.
“The tech expo featured 36 videos showcasing emerging technology from industry and government,” said Buettner. “We also showcased five videos of current Consortium for Robotics and Unmanned Systems Education and Research (CRUSER) projects to the participants so they could see NPS faculty and students at the forefront.”
Organizers say the lead event for this hybrid JIFX, the virtual Combined Arms Collective Training Facility (CACTF) collaboration demonstration and discussion is a strong example of how JIFX connects academia, military and industry. CACTF Virtual Environment is data sharing and data blending program – built in partnership by NPS and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) with data from the U.S. Geologic Survey – that shares and combines data from drones and unmanned sensors to provide a real-time operational picture for commanders for enhanced situational awareness.
Attendees gave their feedback and proposed ideas and potential directions for future collaborations. To some, coming to JIFX to be among peers can serve as a motivator for testing and brainstorming new ideas.
“JIFX is real world environment that takes technologies that seem to work in the lab and put them under stress that we normally wouldn't have at any university libraries,” said Dr. Bob Iannucci, Distinguished Service Professor in CMU's Electrical and Computer Engineering department. “I've taken on projects that I think others probably wouldn't touch because there's a real-world aspect to teach that can't be studied on a whiteboard. It's got to be studied in the dirt and dust and the heat. JIFX provides a great way of shaking out new technologies.
It's a particularly rich environment to seed ideas that then turn into projects that we test in subsequent JIFX events. It's an interactive working environment for professionals who are like-minded.”
Buettner noted that one benefit of any JIFX event is that NPS gets to embed its faculty and students into this dynamic learning environment, but highlighted that this hybrid event signifies how JIFX has always served NPS well as an indicator of the technological direction the university needs to go in solving key operational problems for the Navy and the nation.
“This hybrid JIFX is not just a single adaptation due to the pandemic, but validating how NPS can collaborate more, and more efficiently, as we provide better insight into the future direction of technology and provide a unique educational experience for the future leaders of our Nation’s military.”