AURORA, Colo. — Finalists in the Department of the Air Force’s capstone innovation campaign, “Spark Tank,” presented their ideas to a panel of judges in an event on the last day of the Air and Space Forces Association 2023 Warfare Symposium, March 8.
235 ideas were submitted to submitted in Guardians and Airmen Innovation Network. All of the ideas were evaluated, and the top 15 were presented to be voted upon by Department of the Air Force members. The top six were selected as finalists for presentation at AFA.
“There is a feeling of empowerment that Airmen and Guardians sense when they witness support from their leadership,” said Maj. Aaron Beebe, Air Force Spark Cell program manager and Spark Tank production manager. “However, this event is more than that — they are seeing the support of their peers. Sometimes that validation can speak louder, knowing that you are not alone in the fight.”
The six innovation proposals selected to compete as 2023 finalists were:
- Accelerated Development of Multi-Capable Airmen/Guardians, from Maj. Caitlin Harris of the 351st Special Warfare Training Squadron, Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, Chief Master Sgt. Michael Rubio, Air Education and Training Command, Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, and Maj Caitlin Harris, Ramstein Air Base, U.S. Air Forces Europe
- Advanced Maintenance and Troubleshooting System, from Master Sgt. Aaron Cordroch and Master Sgt. David Nunez, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field, Florida, and Technical Sgt. Andrew Crafts, 27th Special Operations Communications Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico
- Infrastructure in an Augmented Reality World, from Lt. Col. Mark Wagner, 374th Contracting Squadron commander, Master Sgt. Sarah Hubert, 374th Airlift Wing, and Tech. Sgt. Raymond Zgoda of the 353rd Special Operations Wing and 374th Civil Engineer Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, Pacific Air Forces
- Project Kinetic Cargo Sustainment, from Capt. Andrew Armor, Master Sgt. Brandon Allensworth, Master Sgt. Peter Salinas, Master Sgt. Jet Nesle and Tech Sgt. Justin Sprinkel of the 18th Logistics Readiness Squadron, at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Pacific Air Forces
- Real-Time Asset Management System, from Michael Dolan, deputy director, Space Sensing Directorate, Space Systems Command, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California
- Project Oregon Trail, from Staff Sgt. Michael Sturtevant of the 353rd Special Operations Support Squadron at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Air Force Special Operations Command
The Spark Tank judging panel was made up of the Department of the Air Force’s most senior leaders and two special guests, Michael Moe, founder and CEO of GSV Holdings, a growth-focused investment platform based in Silicon Valley, and Lt. Gen (ret) Michelle Johnson, the first female superintendent of the Air Force Academy. Panelists listened to pitches from each of the six idea creators, conducted live evaluations, and selected a winner.
The winning proposal was “Infrastructure in an Augmented RealityWorld”. This idea originated from a deployment to Iraq in 2006 in which Tech. Sgt. Raymond Zgoda accidentally hit a fiber optic cable while digging a trench that was not marked on any of the underground maps his unit possessed. The incident knocked out all communications at his forward operating base for two days.
Years later, Zgoda met Master Sgt. Sarah Hubert and Lt. Col. Mark Wagner, who had recently seen a demonstration at a trade show of augmented reality technology paired with microwave scanning to create underground maps that can identify sinkholes. Zgoda didn’t see any immediate value to his mission in identifying sinkholes, but when he reviewed the augmented reality software with Hubert and Wagner and understood its 3-D mapping capabilities, he knew that it could also be used to identify underground infrastructure not accurately mapped on military bases.
“The hard part is in front of us,” said Zgoda. “We now have to take this idea and implement it on a large scale. We have to work with the contractors and outside entities to get this going. That’s going to be challenging in a variety of different ways, but it’s going to be rewarding too because it is going to positively impact everybody on base. Nobody wants to lose communication or water or anything else underground, and this will ensure that doesn’t happen.”
Spark Tank 2023 is the sixth in a series of annual events. The program encourages Airmen and Guardians from around the Department of the Air Force to develop innovations to improve operations. In addition to the judges’ choice of Infrastructure in an Augmented Reality World, the fan favorite winner was “Project Kinetic Cargo Sustainment.”
“To everyone who helped us make this a reality, thank you,” said Wagner. “To all the other innovators and Spark Cells out there, you have the ideas. Be professionally curious, engage with industry, engage with your people most connected to the mission, and understand their problems to develop solutions.”