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May 08

Weird Science SBIRs

Weird Science film logo, 1985

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.]

 

 

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  1. Physical Scientist

    Thanks for understanding closer to the real purpose of the SBIR. The 12.1 topics will are close to being pre-bid. You would have loved the 09.3 topics.

    1. Damon Diehl

      Greetings “Physical Scientist” and thanks for being the first blog commenter who I don’t personally know!

      If you have any favorites from the DoD 09.3 round of solicitations, feel free to share. You might also enjoy my previous article on NASA NIAC, which also qualifies as “Weird Science.”

      1. Physical Scientist

        I like a few like:
        Non-Lethal Avian Active Denial System Using Directed Energy – this will keep wind generation industry alive as we see recent bird strike deaths have put a great deal of pressure on that industry. Reduction of aircraft bird strikes will save millions not only to the DoD but to the flying public.
        Advanced Uncooled Infrared Detectors Using Nano-Scale – I know that some thing that will be a real game changer is coming out of this.
        Multispectral Desert Fauna Surveillance and Recognition System – (which is conjoined with the uncooled IR detector) is looking at fusing sensors/detectors into a new tool to create a total population inventory of the fauna population in critical habitats. May not mean much to most folks but it is expensive to send people out into those environments and you have a low percentage of detected species causing additional surveys.

        1. Damon Diehl

          Glad you enjoyed this, P.S. This article is by far the most popular thing I’ve written for this site. Seriously! On any given day, almost half the traffic to my site is for the “Weird Science SBIRs” article. Who would have thunk it?!

          I was hoping to do another one on the current round of DoD SBIRs, but I haven’t been able to make it a priority. If some “weird science SBIRs” have caught your attention, I might be interested in putting them up here as a guest post from you.

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