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Troopideas.com

Rifleman62

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Interesting article. Interesting concept. Troopideas.com is a Web site that invites frontline troops to post their ideas for improving the combat experience.

Troop Ideas Link (not up at time of posting):
http://www.troopideas.com/

PatrolNet Slide Show Link:
http://www.networkworld.com/news/2007/082707-web-soldiers-slide1.html

Troops Swap Combat Ideas Online
Web 2.0 techniques enhance a military problem-solving site promoted by a defense contractor.
John Cox, Network World

Troopideas.com is not exactly "MySpace for war fighters," but it's a Web site that invites frontline troops to post their ideas for improving the combat experience. Engineers and developers then use Web 2.0 techniques such as mashups and wikis to turn those ideas into reality.
Dozens of U.S. servicemen and women have so far posted submissions to the Web site since it was launched early in August. The ideas range from low tech to high tech: Creating a helmet-mounted mirror that lets a soldier see behind his back, for example, and a scheme for blocking the cell phone transmissions used to detonate roadside bombs.
Increasingly, many of these problems are being solved by applying Web 2.0 technologies, such as service-oriented architectures (SOA), wikis and social networking that can help compress the typical product development timetable.
In keeping with the nature of the Web itself, Troopideas is a simple way to share information. On the surface, Troopideas.com is little more than a home page and a barebones Web form that lets you identify your problem and then suggest an answer. The site's creator, Gestalt LLC, an energy and defense consulting firm in Camden, N.J., analyzes the submission and starts working on it or passes it along to directly relevant commands or agencies inside the Department of Defense.
For plenty of active-duty soldiers and Marines with front-line combat experience, that Web form is all they need. Intriguingly, many of the suggestions for both low- and high-tech solutions mirror the approach taken by Gestalt itself: Apply familiar commercial technologies and processes, widely used in civilian life, to the very special demands of war fighters.
The helmet-mounted mirror idea was modeled explicitly on the mirrors used by bicyclists. The contributor who wants to block cell phone transmission referred to technology that's used in hospitals and theaters for the same purpose. Another identified a starkly basic idea for outfitting troops in the Middle East with cold water. The proposed suggestion adapts a technique already in use -- slipping a bottle of water into a wet sock, which cools it by evaporation -- into a new type of water bottle carrier for troops in the field.
Still another contributor proposed using voice recognition software and a handheld computer to translate between English and the local language to "limit the need for translations and give soldiers an on-site tool to communicate with the locals."
Not all the ideas are combat-related. One trooper outlined the difficulty he experience trying to obtain and file absentee ballots when he was stationed in Iraq during the 2004 presidential elections. His suggestion? Voting machines at overseas bases.
Making Ideas Real
Underlying the simple Troopideas UI is a sophisticated approach to quickly implementing workable solutions to these problems. Founded in 2001, Gestalt specializes in bringing commercial technologies and "user-centric processes" to the government arena, says President and CEO William Loftus. "We were always interested in talking with the people who had the real problems," he says. "If you can short-circuit the information flow, make it more efficient, you can do what Amazon and eBay did. They didn't fundamentally change commerce: they made it much more efficient."
The company has created its own problem-solving project methodology, which it calls Pathfinder. In broad terms, it resembles the new approach to software development that emerged with 4G languages in the 1970s and today relies heavily on SOA.
Traditional systems design involves starting with an in-depth and complex requirements analysis, followed by an equally complex design process, and finally building the entire system. By contrast, using Pathfinder, Gestalt works continuously with the end user from start to finish, breaking the project down into 30-day chunks (dubbed "sprints"), which are developed quickly using SOA tools and interfaces, coupled initially with commercial and open source software and existing information systems. Every 30 days, the end users see what's been done, critique it, suggest changes, and the process continues.
Loftus refers to a report from a standards group that analyzed software functionality delivered to users as a result of conventional development methodologies. "About 64 percent of the features were 'rarely or never used,'" he says. "That means 36 percent [of the functionality] is 'often or sometimes used.' Now imagine a [development] process that only focuses on that 36 percent. You get efficiency and a quality that's incredible."
From Physical To Informational Problems
From the outset, Gestalt focused on working with the end users, which are often combat troops or the dense contingent of support troops behind them. Initially, field problems were typically what Loftus calls physical problems, such as armor-plating Humvees. "Most of those have been solved," he says. "Now, the problems are about information."
In one early project, Gestalt analysts talked to a soldier in Afghanistan who was asked by a general "how many times did we hit that target?" To answer it, the soldier spent four hours poring through five days of paper records. "In the commercial world, we put all this data in a data warehouse," says Loftus. "When you have questions related to variables like time, geography and so on, you build a query and the data warehouse gives you the answer."
The genesis of the Troopideas Web site is PatrolNet, a demonstration project that grew out of a casual Christmas party conversation between Loftus and a Marine officer who had been wounded in Faluja, Iraq by a roadside bomb. The blast occurred while the officer was escorting his replacement around the city, briefing him on what to expect, where and why.
The officer had no way of tracking, storing and using information about activities in his patrol area, including the location of roadside bombs, weapons caches, enemy activity, or suspected fighters or sympathizers. Loftus summarizes the officer's problem this way: "If I had a system that let me track my [combat] patrol and attach notes and photos, I could have done a better job in explaining things to my replacement. I got injured in taking the guy out to show him things that I could have shown him some other way."
PatrolNet: A Web Mashup
For Gestalt, that other way is Web 2.0. In about 17 days of work over the course of a month in late 2005, a Gestalt team created a prototype system using GoogleMaps, GPS data, a Web wiki and a database. The result was PatrolNet (see slideshow), a Web-accessible system for tracking foot and vehicle patrols, and for letting patrol members enter and update data and photos about such things as interrogations, weapons caches, gunfire, and suspected or confirmed roadside bombs.
Data collection can be via rugged laptops, cell phone text entry and photos, or PDAs. Web interfaces make it simple and quick to add or update information. Icons mark categories of events, such as suspicious individuals, weapons cache and confirmed bomb locations. Mouse-overs show some data, clicks bring up "balloons" of more detailed information, including photos, drawn from wiki pages. GPS data is used in geo-fencing: If a patrol is about to cross into a "red area" of recent or increasing enemy activity, an alert automatically pops up to warn the patrol members.
Combat patrols can use PatrolNet to review the area they'll be patrolling, and see the latest events and the history of events over time. Staff at the company or battalion level can use PatrolNet to monitor active patrols via GPS, see their locations and their track in the city, and zoom in on their activities. A photo of an interrogation suspect can be uploaded from the street, along with the GPS coordinates, via a cell phone and then compared with an online database to see if the suspect is on a wanted or watch list. Data from the field is stored and appears at once on the current PatrolNet map.
"We used a lot of open source software and fused it together," says Geoff Grosse, the Gestalt solution manager who oversaw the PatrolNet project. "The map is something we put together ourselves [using downtown Camden, N.J., as the patrol zone], giving you the option of a street map, a satellite view or a hybrid that combines the two."
Grosse's team did another year's worth of work refining PatrolNet, including replacing GoogleMaps with more detailed and more frequently updated military maps. The project, in limited beta use for now, is on hold as other projects have taken priority. "It's been looked at by Special Forces [command], by disaster response agencies, by some parts of the [military] command suite to better understand what patrols are going through," says Gestalt's Loftus.
The Information Battlefield
Integrating information and creating context for understanding is a recurring theme in problems and ideas percolating up from the field. One soldier described how difficult it is to find out what strike options to use against a potential target. Army units typically have to make separate cell phone calls, for example, to Navy, Air Force or Marine counterparts to discover what artillery or missile or aircraft assets are available. "That introduces tremendous delay," says Loftus. "Often you have to make a [strike] decision before all those calls get completed."
Gestalt used SOA tools and interfaces to pull information about available strike assets from the existing command and control systems of the different services, displaying the integrated data on a Web page. Now, an Army commander can see what options he has to strike a target, how long it will take for each to hit the target, and evaluate the results and affects of each weapon.
"Commercial software alone doesn't cut it," says Loftus. "Wal-Mart's supply chain [system] works great. But put it into the center of Baghdad with terrorists blowing up warehouses and trucks and it won't work. Traditionally, [defense] contractors rebuild everything. But today, stuff is designed for reuse."
"All we're trying to do is increase the efficiency of understanding," he says. "So that when something does get delivered to the field, it really will work and solve the problem it was intended to solve. The enemy [in the field] is different today, and we have to catch up to that."
Troopideas is the logical extension of this kind of thinking. "Troopideas is just a way to broaden the applicability of this methodology, to see if we can get more and more of these things happening," says Loftus.

For more information about enterprise networking, go to NetworkWorld. Story copyright 2007 Network World Inc. All rights reserved.

 
Does not the highlighting of weaknesses and deficiencies also work to the Terrorists advantage?
 
The thought of it scares me actually ... so much for lessons learned ...
 
Very well put. Sometimes we need to think outside of the box, and Troopideas is outside the box, and the bureaucracy.
 
I think that this is a brilliant concept. Troops need every edge that they can get, and doing the sand-table model work from the 50's worked great...... in the 50's. Yes, there is still application for things like that (low-tech) when hi tech, such as PatrolNet and TroopIdeas, craps out, but saying that we shouldn't do it because the enemy might be able to take advantage of it is pretty weak. If you allow yourself to get complacent and lazy, and use technology as a crutch, you deserve what you get, but for those that want the cutting edge and to utilize every tool in the toolbox, these types of things are outstanding. Another example of good ideas that can get pushed up, instead of bad ideas that get pushed down (complete with someones "fingerprints" all over it).

AL
 
While I readily understand the value of Web 2.0 applications to gather first hand feedback and provide a data set for analysis, I do have a few doubts about this particular type of model.

If it's being run by a third-party, how would we know the "results" aren't being skewed towards solutions developed by corporations providing financial backing?

How do we know the results are being filtered by "experts" who are using the soldiers vocabulary the way they use it? And keeping up with evolving vocabulary in that demographic?

How effectively can the system filter rants without analysis, or posts which provide little more than "+1"?

What is being offered to "train" participants to provide useful first-hand data?
 
I would think the end user could buy the software and run it on their own secure server.
 
PatrolNet - That is an ingenious approach. Managed properly, that looks like a powerful tool to increase overall situational awareness, but as stated above, not to be relied upon (like a GPS!)

Troopideas sounds like a great idea, but I can understand some of the concerns with security, filters etc - but I think those could be easily worked out..
 
Let us not forget that "keeping it in house" these days includes the option of handing it off to a contractor to run.
 
I like PatrolNet particularly.Its the sand table of the 21st century. ;)
 
CSA 105 said:
I would hope that we'd have the brains not to hand this one off but to keep it run by people bound by the Code of Service Discipline.

And that decision will be made by those who are

our people wearing crowns, wreaths, coats of arms, 3+ stripes and maple leaves - they may need training and assistance.

Hopefully, they will look for uniformed people who have started to explore these concepts, and not try to rely upon the stagnated bunch that brought us the despair of Baseline.
 
Sounds like a job for someone named "Bobbitt".......

.....and since this has evolved to a serious thread, my comment not withstanding, I will move it out of Radio Chatter.
 
Sounds like someone needs to pass this software along to the brass in the puzzle palace. ;)
 
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