For the last month, the federal government has been inviting anyone with an internet connection to try their hand at designing a sophisticated new combat vehicle that can perform reconnaissance, as well as delivery and evacuation missions. The contest, which ended March 10th, offered $10,000 in prize money, and was part of a larger move to integrate crowdsourcing into government agencies. To launch the contest, the federal military agency Defense Advance Research Project Agency (DARPA) joined forces with Local Motors, a company specializing in manufacturing crowdsourced auto designs. The relatively young, automotive manufacturing company is, according to its website, “in the business of trying to democratize that design process, and recognizes that this democratization will challenge the notion of where designers can find an outlet for their talents.”
Most crowdsourcing contests result in a faster, cheaper, and often better product, and this is usually more than enough to warrant such contests. Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, who oversees the design contest as deputy program manager for the DARPA Adaptive Vehicle Make portfolio, told Fox News, “It takes us 10 or 20 years to develop a complex military system like a jet or a ship or a tank. We want to reduce that by a factor of five to ten.”
Though DARPA very well may reap this reward, the agency is getting something else which is perhaps even more valuable – it’s collecting the hundreds of design ideas being submitted via contest entries and comments. Unlike typical crowdsourcing contests which ask participants to submit and/or vote on entries, the DARPA contest allows contestants to revise and resubmit their entries as often as they like, encouraging frequent comments from fellow participants at several stages along the way. The DARPA contest does have a voting component, though this has little to do with selecting a winner; that will be done by DARPA and Local Motors around March 15th. Instead, the votes, like the ubiquitous comments, are just part of the feedback generated by the contestants. In essence, the contest has produced a storehouse of collective intelligence and know-how that DARPA can return to for future projects whenever it likes.
“Adaptive Vehicle Make is about more than just building an infantry fighting vehicle; it’s about building a new process and a new set of tools to support that process to allow us to design complex, cyber-electro-mechanical military system much faster,” Wiedenman told Fox News. Is military crowdsourcing a good idea across the board, or are there some areas of technology that the military should not crowdsource new designs? Weaponry, for example? On the other hand, what areas of military technology are best suited to crowdsourcing?