NEWS | Feb. 8, 2017

Innovation in sight: Submariners Target Innovation

By Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel Hinton

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii -- Across the world, everyone is trying to spur innovation in their enterprises. From multi-national corporations to small, nonprofit startups, the ability for an organization to adapt to new challenges and push the boundaries in their respective markets is likened to trying to capture a leprechaun. Seemingly impossible to do on purpose and largely contingent on luck.

Recently, a team from the University of Rome created a mathematical model that purports to reveal the patterns of how innovation arises. These researchers basically made a map of a leprechaun’s route from home to work. Truly ground breaking stuff.

Still, innovation for the vast majority of enterprises is an elusive mystery and probably will be for the foreseeable future, notwithstanding the work from the people at University of Rome.

The submarine force finds itself in the situation that many other large enterprises are in. They are continuing to adapt to new market conditions and desperate to spur innovation to meet future challenges.

Stuart Kauffman, a prominent complexity theorist, thought innovation in any field arises from the interplay between the actual and the possible. This led to the concept of the “adjacent possible,” which are all those things — words, songs, molecules, technologies etc. — that are one step away from what actually exists.

This is the line of thinking that spurred a new initiative within Commander, Submarine Force U.S. Pacific Fleet called the Innovation Lab, also known as the iLab, which is hosted by the Naval Submarine Training Center Pacific.

The idea was simple enough. Give Sailors who are large stakeholders in the outcome of future challenges in undersea warfare a chance to push current commercial technology to improve what is in existence, to what is possible.

Sailors at the waterfront could be the bridge to the “adjacent possible” that is so critical to innovation.

All this begs the question, “What is the iLab?” The answer is simple. It is a place where current and widely available technology, like augmented and virtual reality is explored by anyone to find solutions to current problems and even some problems that don’t even exist.

The dividends of the iLab won’t be measured in ideas and concepts generated from visitors but of lives and dollars saved.

Though the iLab has only been open for a few short months, some of the ideas produced from the sessions have been reviewed and approved by Commander of Submarine Forces in the Pacific Fleet Rear Adm. Frederick "Fritz" Roegge.

One approved idea from Sailors, assigned to Naval Submarine Training Center Pacific, was to have 360-degree video of surface transits of submarines, during which the boat is at higher risk of colliding with another ship or grounding, to build a database and use for training in a virtual environment.

That idea, simple as it may be, which began as the “adjacent possible” is on the way to becoming existing technology.

That is one example of the potential impact of the pursuing innovation. Many ideas may not make the cut but you only have to catch a leprechaun once to get the pot of gold.

Check back with us at www.csp.navy.mil every month for new ideas that have come from people like you who have visited the iLab and had their ideas approved and moved on to the proof of concept phase.