It’s not a secret that I love the Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) program. At some point I’ll write a bit more on the history and motivation of the SBIR program, but the short version is that SBIR grants and contracts foster radical and risky innovation… stuff that is more likely to come from a garage-based small start-up company. Right now I’m sifting through the current Department of Defense call for proposals, which was posted on April 26. Most of the topics are highly technical, and not interesting to a general audience. Some though, are just plain weird… or cool… or both… those terms are not mutually exclusive. In celebration of the new SBIR topics, here are a few unusual ones that caught my attention this season.
#1: It’s probably not a surprise that first prize goes to DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency… or less formally, The Department of Mad Scientists. This year DARPA is looking for a small business to develop “Online Graphic Novel/Sequential Art Authoring Tools for Therapeutic Storytelling.” Yes, you, my web-savvy friend, could win a lucrative government research contract to develop comic-book software. (I’m not being facetious or sarcastic… check out my home library some time. I think that’s fantastic!)
#2: The Air Force is seeking a “Desert Fauna Detection and Tracking System.” This one was a real head-scratcher, and I imagined all sorts of nefarious reasons for tracking and identifying animals. The motivation for this project, however, turned out to be not only benign but actually kind of tree-huggy. Here are the two key bits that explain the need for the project.
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) and Air Force Instruction (AFI) 32-7064 require the Department of Defense (DOD) to manage the natural resources of each military reservation within the United States and to provide sustained multiple uses of those resources.
Every year the Natural Resource Branch spends thousands of dollars documenting the presence/absence of the various sensitive and listed species on base. This is costly in terms of time, materials, manpower and impacts to study results. A new system is needed to enable effective detection and tracking of sensitive and listed species at a significantly reduced in all these costs.
So, in short, if you are the Jane Goodall of nocturnal desert animals, and you’ve got a brilliant idea for automating your research, this is the program for you.
#3 And finally, the Army is seeking a “Neuromorphic Parallel Processor”… in other words something akin to the positronic brain posited by Isaac Asimov.
[This post has been getting spammed like mad, so I’ve had to turn off comments. Sorry, folks.]