SOFWERX innovators explore collaborations, find connections in Tampa

[Note: This item comes from friend Jennifer Snow. DLH]

SOFWERX innovators explore collaborations, find connections in Tampa
Feb 21 2017

Drones, or unmanned aircraft, are all the rage — and lots of folks are looking for ways to use them for carrying packages, inspecting property or even just to have fun.

Zach Levine and his friends’ interest was quite the opposite: Instead of studying a drone’s capabilities, they looked for its vulnerabilities. In the end, they found a way to take over drones and ground them, with the goal of protecting American troops from attack.

Levine, along with Jeremy Smith, Kyle Castleline, Mason Jeffers and Matt Oldfield, accepted a challenge from Tampa’s OpenWERX to study drone vulnerabilities. Levine’s team, Dunning-Kruger Experience, delivered more than requested: They developed new software that can spoof a drone through its Global Positioning System, forcing it to land as if it were in a no-fly zone.

The pilot maintains manual flight control, but after a certain distance he or she can’t see the drone anymore. “It [the software] would make it impossible to carry out an attack unless they were 100 feet away,” Levine says.

For its efforts, Dunning-Kruger Experience won $3,000 it plans to put toward starting a business together. “We want to work on some inventions,” Levine says.

OpenWERX engages the public in a monthly contest to generate input about military and government concerns. The competitions, which can be attended in person or by webinar, are just one way the U.S. government is trying to make it easier for the public to deal with the bureaucracy, and meet its needs.

Building on the power of ideas

Tucked away in a building where Cuban revolutionary Jose Marti slept in 1891, the Fort Walton Beach-based Doolittle Institute runs SOFWERX, named for its connection to Special Operations Forces. SOFWERX includes OpenWERX and DirtyWERX, which handles fast protyping in a separate location.

Through collaboration, they are able to accomplish in two days what it otherwise may take 18 months to do.

“The real power is in the ideas,” says James “Hondo” Geurts, U.S. Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Acquisition Executive and Director of Special Operations Forces Acquisitions, Technology and Logistics (SOF AT and L).

The SOFWERX building was once a popular place for elite visitors like then-Col. Teddy Roosevelt, who later became President; President Grover Cleveland; and Sir Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. Now 100 to 150 enter its doors every week, some with ideas for what might become tomorrow’s hot inventions. So SOFWERX is poised to make history, through innovation.

“It’s a great place to share ideas and they don’t have to be … military ideas,” Geurts says.

He views SOFWERX as a community asset. “What’s so neat about it is, it’s built for collaboration,” Geurts says.

What helps warfighters also may help emergency medical personnel, firefighters, law enforcement, cities and businesses. “Certainly we have a drive to have solutions that help us, but it’s much more broad than that,” he adds.

Located in the second brick building constructed in Ybor City, SOFWERX was designed with conference rooms and computer work areas for a number of projects. On neutral ground, SOFWERX uses low-cost materials and open source software that enables it to try more ideas.

“We can afford to fail faster and more often, which really helps the enterprise,” says Tambrien Bates, who directs SOFWERX. “Our goal is to actually get best of breed here.”



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