By Daniel Smoot, Office of Army Prize Competitions and Army Applied SBIR Program
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Army is asking innovative small businesses to develop training technology that could revolutionize commercial wearables, such as smart watches, with underwater capabilities.
In a new solicitation, small businesses will seek to deliver a waterproof physiological monitoring system to better understand Soldier well-being throughout the training process for unconventional combat, rather than only after visual signs of distress.
Despite significant supervision and stringent safety measures, serious safety risks remain prevalent as the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School teaches combat divers in one of the most unforgiving environments — underwater.
To deliver high-impact, lifesaving capability to trainees across the Services during the Combat Diver Qualification Course, the Army Applied SBIR Program and Army Applications Laboratory have partnered to co-fund the development of a Diver Performance Monitoring System.
The capability will assess and analyze relevant biomarkers, including blood oxygen levels, heart beats per minute and heart rate variability, and alert divers to predetermined risk thresholds.
The Diver Performance Monitor System’s requirements in fresh, chlorinated, and salt-water environments will include critical technology features:
Innovative small-business opportunity
With an increased focus on dual-use technology, transition into Army acquisition programs and contracting speed, the Army has reinvented its approach to the Congressionally funded Small Business Innovation Research program.
The joint Army solicitation between the Army Applied SBIR Program and AAL underscores this shift in efforts.
This novel approach leverages the best of the Army’s resources — including problem identification from Special Operations customers and acquisition programs, and expedient contracting through the new Army SBIR Contracting Center of Excellence — while potentially expanding the use-case of the Diver Performance Monitoring System.
Like how runners around the world monitor their health and performance through smart watches, a waterproof monitoring capability may help law enforcement, commercial divers, marine archeologists, triathletes, swimmers and SCUBA divers, among others, monitor their health and safety across a host of underwater activities.
Such technology has potential to not only increase safety for warfighters but also in the most dangerous job in the world, commercial underwater welding, which currently has a mortality rate of 15%.
“Underwater physiological monitoring is largely an area of study within the medical community, with no current technologies on the market today that meet the needs of the Army,” said Paul Reid, who manages Army Applied SBIR program’s portfolio and investments in immersive and wearable technology.
“This is an exciting opportunity to support small-business innovation and enhance the safety and performance of our Soldiers in underwater operational environments, while also highlighting the first of several planned collaborations between ASA(ALT)’s Army Applied SBIR program and AAL’s SPARTN program,” Reid added.
The programs are focused on both Army and DOD-wide solutions for warfighter needs.
“While the need for this technology originated from AAL’s work with SOCOM, the partnership with the Army Applied SBIR Program will help to further expand the opportunity across the U.S. military,” said Nick Rinaldi, operations officer at the Army Applications Laboratory.
Contract awards up to $3.25 million
Up to 10 small-business selectees will receive Phase I contract awards of up to $150,000 each to develop the new physiological monitoring solution.
During the three-month contract period, Phase I selectees will gain access to warfighter touchpoints, providing critical feedback to develop and test their technology in a practical setting with their primary customer — Special Operations warfighters — throughout the development process.
Phase I selectees may also submit a proposal for a follow-on Phase II contract. The Phase II awardees will have an opportunity to be part of AAL’s Cohort Program, which builds awardee teams to create holistic solutions.
Phase II contracts will award up to two companies a potential $3.25 million, with a total co-investment of up to $8 million from the Army Applied SBIR Program and AAL split among non-competing, cooperating selectees in the cohort developing the diver stress-monitoring system over a 21-month period of performance.
“This is the first time ASA(ALT)’s Army Applied SBIR and AAL’s SPARTN programs have collaborated to co-fund a joint SBIR solicitation,” said Dr. Matt Willis, director of Army Prize Competitions and Army Applied SBIR Program, within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology.
“Our partnership highlights the importance of this effort and the safety of warfighter training, and our focus on technologies that also have high potential for success in the commercial sector,” Willis said. “We look forward to what small businesses have to offer.”
Combined, these two programs will boost the opportunity for small businesses while also enhancing warfighter safety.
“The collaboration blends government and industry best practices to introduce a new whole-of-Army, collaborative approach to Technology innovation,” said COL Jay Wisham, director of the Army Applications Laboratory.
Qualified small businesses can submit proposals beginning January 10, 2023, and ending January 31, 2023, at noon Eastern Time. Full proposal packages must be submitted through the DSIP Portal. Additional information can be found at aal.army/get-involved/.
About the Army Applied SBIR and AAL’s SPARTN programs
The Army Applied SBIR and AAL’s Special Program Awards for Required Technology Needs programs award Phase I contracts to small businesses and non-traditional vendors with solutions that offer technical merit, feasibility and commercial potential, and Phase II awards for those that can meet the Army’s needs and earn further federal support. Direct to Phase II awards are for solutions that are already mature and ready for demonstration.
Through the Army Applied SBIR and AAL’s SPARTN programs, small businesses can interact with technical, acquisition and operational subject matter experts. These specialists provide insight into the Army’s technological needs and guidance through the Army research and development ecosystem.
Small businesses take advantage of this by partnering with technical points of contact that serve as resources for companies as they mature their technologies for eventual insertion into Army acquisition programs.
The Army Applied SBIR and AAL’s SPARTN programs have also streamlined the way small businesses can quickly receive funding for critical developments, minimizing time to contract and the pace of solving the Army’s technological needs.
The Army Applied SBIR Program releases contract opportunities on a rolling basis to respond to the Army’s current and anticipated warfighting technology needs. For eligibility information and a list of open topics, please visit armysbir.army.mil.
AAL’s Cohort Program brings in businesses that do not usually partner with the Department of Defense and focuses them on solving a specific Army problem. They work side-by-side with Soldiers and with a community of Army experts and stakeholders on a shared learning journey to create something new. To learn more, visit aal.army/cohortprogram.
The Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology leverages technologies and capabilities to provide U.S. Soldiers a decisive advantage in any mission by developing, acquiring, fielding and sustaining the world’s finest equipment and services. For more information, visit army.mil/asaalt and follow @ArmyASAALT.