DOD unveils Boston innovation hub

Defense Secretary Ash Carter cut the ribbon on an east coast version of the Pentagon's Silicon Valley innovation unit.

Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter (above) opened the Boston outpost of the Pentagon's innovation hub DIUx.

The Defense Department officially opened its second experimental tech unit, DIUx 2.0, in Boston, while announcing a faster agile tech development capability and new prototype work.

Although the Pentagon's Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUx) in Boston has been working on a number of technology development efforts for the last 75 days, Defense Secretary Ash Carter Secretary Carter officially opened the facility on July 26.

The newly-inaugurated office, said Carter in remarks at the opening, will leverage the Boston area's "rich legacy" of public services and technical innovation, particularly its growing expertise in biosciences.

Earlier this month, Carter approved a memo that outlines the mission and authorities of the private-sector outreach program that has faced persistent doubts from Congress.

The July 5 memo sought to put DIUX on firmer operational ground by clearly stating its mission as one of scouting promising commercial technologies and "pioneering procurement and acquisition pathways optimized for start-up firms and non-traditional entrants to the defense industry."

Lawmakers have been enthusiastic about the DIUx concept, but are skeptical about how the program will be paid for.

Carter said it would be easy for Congress to keep on the traditional road of providing money to the Defense Department to develop technology, but DIUx offers a new, more efficient way.

"We can't accomplish this without a willing partner in Congress. I hope Congress will join us," he said.

Carter, along with DIUx Managing Director Raj Shah, said DIUx has begun work on 15 separate projects since May, using accelerated, more tech-industry friendly methods to speed outcomes. According to Carter, the first DIUx development contract took only a month to be awarded.

That first project, he said, is with Halo Neuroscience for a non-invasive brain stimulation headset that could help speed and improve soldiers' marksmanship, strength, and combat skills. Special operations forces are trialing the technology, he said, while other prototype efforts, including work on high-speed drones and multifactor authentication, proceed.

DIUx, he said, has harnessed new speedier innovation mechanism, called the Commercial Solutions Opening, to leverage new flexible authorities for prototyping. Developed with working with experts from Army Contracting Command-New Jersey at Picatinny Arsenal, Carter said it employs agile processes similar to those utilized in the private sector and can provide funding in as little as 60 days following a vendor proposal.

Carter and Shah also welcomed two new members of the DIUx' leadership team, Chief Science Officer Bernadette Johnson, the former chief technology officer at MIT Lincoln Laboratories; and Boston military lead Col. Mike McGinley, a lawyer specializing in cybersecurity issues.

The Defense Department's Defense Innovation Board which taps tech industry expertise on innovation for the Pentagon, added more heavy hitters too. Carter said the Board, which is headed up by Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google's parent company Alphabet, now counts renowned Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and Amazon Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, as well as LinkedIn Co-Founder Reid Hoffman, as members. The group is expected to release its first slate of recommendations to the Pentagon in the fall.

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