The military and defense contractors can learn a lot from the wisdom of the masses, and American fighting forces could be better equipped and better protected if higher-ups would embrace the DIY ethos of ingenuity and agility. At least that's how Jay Rogers, founder of an automotive firm that just built a military concept vehicle from crowdsourced plans, sees things.
Rogers' team of designers and engineers at Local Motors in Phoenix built the car, nicknamed FLYPmode, from scratch in less than four months, unveiling it for President Obama last week before delivering it to the military's mad-science division in Virginia. If makers like Rogers get their way, the first Experimental Crowd-derived Combat Support Vehicle, or XC2V, just might be the future of the military industrial supply chain. But Rogers and his advocates face some hurdles first.
Click on the thumbnails to see some shots of the FLYPmode concept vehicle.
Last week, a Senate Appropriations Committee report took issue with several of DARPA's blue-sky projects in the 2012 defense budget, including the XC2V. It's part of DARPA's FANG project, for Fast Adaptable Next-Generation Ground Combat Vehicle. While acknowledging it's a good way to infuse the defense industry with new ideas, the committee is apparently concerned that the FANG project does "not adequately address" armor technologies and other safety issues, according to the report, obtained by the defense watchdog group Inside Defense and reported by Danger Room this week.
Rogers, a former Marine with nine years of service, takes umbrage at the notion that a crowdsourced, rapid prototyping process is unsafe. The victors of great global conflicts will not win because they've spent tons of time and billions of dollars, Rogers said: "They win it because they figured out what was going to beat the enemy, and they built that."
Humvees were not designed to be especially blast-resistant, which is why the U.S. is spending so much time and money retrofitting them with armor. New designs like the FLYPmode can be engineered specifically to deal with modern threats like improvised explosive devices, Rogers said.
Rogers imagines this scenario: An American platoon in Afghanistan radios a forward operating base with the news that the platoon needs supplies, fast. A boxy brown combat vehicle speeds to their aid, carrying supplies and stretchers for wounded warfighters with greater haste than an armored Humvee. When the vehicle arrives, Marine unload their beans, bullets and Band-Aids and quickly install a new weapon mount, pre-fabricated using CAD software and a 3-D printer from the FOB.
"What is safety in a vehicle? Is it putting somebody on the outside of a vehicle designed in the 1960s, and up-armoring it, or is it designing a new vehicle with blast channels?" he said. "Maybe we did not do the same development that (contractor) General Dynamics did, to make sure the strut on the vehicle lasts a million miles. But if it saves a life, and it lasts for a whole conflict, haven't we done a better thing?"
The goal was to quickly design and build a fully deployable vehicle, and Local Motors beat DARPA's deadline, Rogers said. It's the sort of task that would be next to impossible in a traditional military procurement process. But still, the FLYPmode is just a prototype, he said.
"We made one vehicle. but we made it right, and we did it in a way in which we're trying to prove a process. I think we succeeded in spades to make that proof of concept successful," he said.
DARPA engineers will test it next. For its part, the agency said XC2V helped DARPA learn more about the crowdsourcing process, and how it could be used to enhance the agency's Adaptive Vehicle Make program, which seeks to compress development timelines five-fold.
"(It will) lower the barrier to participation in innovation and manufacturing," said Paul Eremenko, DARPA program manager.
Obama was even more optimistic: "Not only could this change the way the government uses your tax dollars — think about it, instead of having a 10-year lead time to develop a piece of equipment, if we were able to collapse the pace of which that manufacturing takes place, that would save taxpayers billions of dollars — but it also could get technology out to the theater faster, which could save lives."
Local Motors has been helping DIY auto-lovers build cars like street-legal rally racers since Rogers founded the company in 2007. Designers and enthusiasts submit car concepts, and a community of Local Motors users cast votes and comments throughout a competition, choosing a winning design. When DARPA came calling for a rapid military prototype, it was a perfect fit. The company received a $639,000 contract. Local Motors and DARPA officials set specific guidelines for the XC2V contest, so it wasn't exactly starting from scratch — the winning concept had to be a high-speed recovery and resupply vehicle, which could transport a platoon-sized delivery of C-bags full of supplies and enough room to transport three wounded soldiers or Marines. It was not designed for infantry and it was not an armored personnel carrier — "There were so many things it wasn't," Rogers said.
Competitors were able to watch videos of typical combat situations in Afghanistan, and a design brief outlined the basic requirements and limitations. The car would be loosely based on Local Motors' Rally Fighter chassis, with new designs for getting in and out of the car, wheel balance and other elements. Over two weeks, designers submitted 160 legitimate concepts, and the community voted on the submissions.
To borrow a phrase, apparently Flypmode was the greatest.
Oorah Woo hah!
The contest sparked some controversy in the design community, with critics saying Garcia's friends voted for it and that better designs didn't get a fair shake. Rogers said he understands others' concerns, but argues that Local Motors' algorithm is sophisticated enough to grant varying weights to certain users depending on their own participation, reliability and other factors. He compared it to Amazon.com's user ratings system, which essentially reviews the reviewers.
"We make it very clear that it's not based on a popularity contest. Just because you had more votes does not mean you're going to do better," he said.
In all, it took two weeks to collect submissions, one week to verify that no patents or trademarks were violated, and three and a half months to put everything together, Rogers said.
"It blows my mind. It was just an idea in somebody's head," he said. "We did it through crowdsourcing, and it's a car that could be used, and its data is freely available for people to mod it and go forward."
FLYPmode is just one part of a planned $1 billion, 5-year manufacturing program at DARPA, meant to breathe new life into American industry. Rogers said he hopes future projects will be just as fruitful, but he's not quite as excited about proving new concepts.
"As a good solider and a good Marine, and someone who wanted to show the military industrial complex this could be done, that's awesome, but now I am interested in doing the vehicles," he said. "If (companies like) Oshkosh Defense got real, and quick enough, they could use this methodology to do great things. If they don't, then it could be up to us. Do we create a new division of local motors for military contracts? Maybe."
Then the crowdsourced car could serve much more than the armed forces — it could invigorate an entirely new form of industry.
I see a lot of mentions of crowd sourcing in this article, which is the first I've heard of for the XC2V, but no discussion as to how it was done.
Off hand I will say that under no conditions do I want any mechanicals exposed on a high speed combat vehicle. The exposed suspension, and presumably pieces of the steering mechanism is a big liability. Its easily destroyed when not sheilded from blasts, and can even be impaired by hand if an enemy gets close enough. No point in building something fast if it won't get you very far. This is obviously a medium problem and can be corrected in future designs, but points to the obvious flaw that the crowd-sourced designs may not be inclusive of certain operational hazards; proving to be a liability to the soldiers in the field.
But you just proved a good point for crowd-sourcing. If you had been one of the people who was crowd-sourced you might have been able to point out this flaw. Crowd-sourcing I think could be compared to using a supercomputer to solve a complex problem by having different processors working on different things but accomplish an overall function; in crowd-sourcing all of the individuals are the individual processors working on one big project. The more people who are crowd-sourced the better the machines we can build in shorter amounts of time but at the cost a confidentiality and at the risk of certain ideas being sold to enemies.
lawsonrw, it's likely that those involved decided that the point of any armor or protection on these vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan is fairly specific; it's there to offer some protection from small-arms fire, act as a highly mobile weapons platform for small to medium-arms weaponry, and protect its occupants from explosions.
Remember that it's a light vehicle, not a tank. Its purpose is to do its job protecting the people inside it. If there's a blast close enough that it could possibly have killed or injured the occupants, it will probably disable the vehicle anyway. They put armor on Humvees because they want the soldiers inside to survive blasts that tear unarmored Humvees to pieces. Point is that the people inside will survive. It was probably decided that trying to armor that area, with the amount of suspension travel and steering they wanted to achieve, wasn't reasonable or necessary.
That said, it would be great if someone *did* offer a design solution for it that worked well without too much disadvantage. Crowdsourcing for the win! :D
Great we're engaging in a civil conversation as opposed to some of the other *smart* people on here. What good is saving a soldier if they're going to be trapped in a danger zone? If the suspension or steering were taken out, and the soldiers get flanked on two sides (as is quite common) they'd have to leave the vehicle and hope for the best. Not sound strategy if a simple redesign is all it takes. I don't foresee any significant loss in speed or maneuverability if such a change were to be implemented. One simple solution is to add bulging fenders.
BTW, I wonder who at Local Motors is a big fan of Busta Rhymes (Flype Mode Squad).
It should also be kept in mind that certain shortcomings can be addressed with operational doctrine. For example, to minimize casualties in the case of an immobilization and flanking attack, multiple vehicles would be deployed in a convoy. An IED might get one or two, but if you have five vehicles, and the crew in the hit vehicles is still combat operational, you still have five crews to engage hostiles. A vehicle like this a fine balance of performance and protection. The most important things to protect are protected, and with proper operation, vehicle loss can be prevented as well. Another possible operating procedure for rapid transit would be to stay off the roads, and the FLYPmode looks like it could handle better off road than the current Humvee.
I have one improvement I have crudely made. http://tinypic.com/r/14t0bcm/7
Look at that picture and then back to the first and tell me it's not greatly improved with more manly tires.
I thought I saw a dog in there. paws at 1:54
oops I mean :10 and at :21 theres 4 dog shots I counted even one that looks the guy is feeding it.
I know that crowdsourcing is the new black, but it's hard to tell if this is any kind of success.
Aside from the bragging about how fast the proptotye was built, there's not really any info presented here as to why this is a good vehicle. Well, I guess that there was a vague refernece to blast channels.
Nor is there any mention that they did any testing to see how well it would meet various requirements. Did they?
I will hold the applause until Darpa runs it through some typical useage scenarios. Hopefully they will use the same test cases on the much maligned up armored Hunvee to see how they compare.
I'm not saying it's bad, but there's nothing presented here to convince me that it's good.
it's an eye-catching concept design, and I'm sure it's rugged from and off-road standpoint, and probably acceptably fast. If a special-ops capacity for fast, light and unarmored it Might be a possibility.
To carry troops and injured Soldiers, Marines and Airmen in and out of combat SAFELY it is doubtful that this design has much merit. Speedily maybe, but safely is the MRAP, M-ATV (to a lesser extent than the other MRAPs by design) and heavier combat vehicles like Stryker, M113, Bradley and Abrams.
Crowdsourceing is neat for generating ideas and concepts that may pass on to other more "combat ready" vehicles and designs...
Not impressed. Must be great for combat on a beach or wide open flat desert. Most combat situations don't happen in a place where vehicles can maneuver at high speed. When you lose speed you need protection. In most combat situations this "combat" truck will expose the occupants to too much. This looks like a dune buggy wrapped in thin kevlar. Stupid Hollywood. General Motors...take this idea and make it combat efficient and it'll look like a MATV.
remember, it is just a prototype, all your concerns can be addressed
@Everyone who thinks the armor is missing...
This was a rapid prototyping test to produce a complex novel engineering solution; to see whether it could be done at all. Armor is not required for that kind of test. It used civilians because they currently have the kind of computer technology that soldiers can be expected to have in ten or twenty years time. That is the other reason it lacks armor. Getting civilians to design that would have meant handing over classified data.
Now that civilians have proven it, the military can start to ask itself how it can more directly involve service men and women directly in the design process of new kit. The upshot of which is to avoid design blunders that require massive and expensive recalls. And to ensure smart modifacations are propagated as widely as possible.
Can anyone tell me why it only has two doors? What would happen if the guys in the front get killed or hurt so bad that they can't move and the guys in back need to get out? Another thing what if it getts hit and the guys up front are fine and the guys in back need to get out quickly to fight? If you take to long trying to get in or out might be shot. Most people have good ideas but forget some important part of what they need. This shows that.
Just because Mr. Rogers served as a Marine doesn't mean he isn't seeing dollar signs, just like all the other ex-military people that are now defense contractors. While it may be that this is adequately fast and nimble, we don't know that is true from this video. It's not weighted down here, and although it looks real racy, the visibility is an obvious tradeoff for survivability. Then there is the wheelbase. It's as long as it can get and still be stable, but I can't see where 3 Marines and full kit are going to fit. While this is certainly an advance in design(much needed) it's not looking like what we need, but only barely. I think this is 'almost there', but that 'almost' is another order of magnitude, even if this prototype tests well. I just hope that DARPA doesn't take it easy on this thing because they want a full test regimen on it, because every time that happens, we end up with something that is not quite what we actually need. The Humvee took it's supposed "groundbreaking" drivetrain and chassis design from the venerable Unimog, although GM was more than happy to take the credit for it. This will need something very similar to be effective. I was very lucky and got to tear into a HMVWW that had it's front end mostly mangled in testing at Ft. Lewis, and compared to the Jeep, it was a lightyear leap forward. THAT'S the benchmark, Mr. Rogers. A lightyear's leap past the HMVWW.
When tanks came into Normandy, they were bottled up from moving inland due to "Hedgerows", which were essentially lines of bushes overgrown for hundreds of years into impenetrable fences. Like the sodbusters of a hundred years earlier, who developed a plow to bust through the prarie sod to the fertile earth below, the tankmen developed a way to burst through the hedgerows, but welding giant forks to the bottom of their tanks, which ripped up the hedgerows. This allowed the invasion to continue inward, and making the Germans retreat. Since necessity is the mother of invention, why not take it a step further with crowdsourcing, which codifies and organizes individual improvements. This military vehicle looks more streamlined, which would likely deflect bullets and explosions, while at the same time not sacrificing visibility. The only problems with crowdsourcing is that it could save so much money that the military industrial comples could be put out of Business.
There are always trade-offs. For years, the vehicle of choice in Afghanistan was the Toyota HiLux pickup truck. Most operations were offensive in nature and involved the movement of small groups of people from village to village on dirt trails and river beds. These trucks could drive on or off-road, and could negotiate just about any trail. IED's were not the threat that they are now.
Enter "Big Army". Logistics needs grew, which required large convoys in order to move fuel and supplies from fixed-base to fixed-base. The bad-guys figured out that attacking these large convoys using direct fire was a no-win situation. IED's became an easy way to inflict damage and casualties with little or no risk.
Unfortunately, the solution "Big Army" came up with was to make bigger, heavier vehicles, and stick to the same roads where IED's were being employed. Larger, heavier vehicles require even more fuel and maintenance, increasing the need for even more road-bound convoys. It has become a giant "self-licking ice-cream cone". It should be noted that neither Army nor Marine doctrine is well suited for small-scale, asymmetrical warfare and leaders generally don't "think outside the box". When all you have in your toolbox is a hammer...
Most of the senior leadership in the military learned their trade preparing to fend off a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, and our entire military/industrial complex is still geared towards this type of warfare, with few exceptions. It takes years from the time an equipment requirement is submitted, to the time the required equipment is fielded. By the time the warfighter receives this equipment, it is either nearing obsolescence, or the enemy has changed tactics.
There is no "one size fits all" tactical vehicle. MRAPs and MAT-V's are great if you want to be road-bound and burn lots of fuel. ATV's are great if you want to be more mobile and move off-road. Every job requires a different tool. The more tools you have in your box, the better you can do the job. This vehicle is just one more tool in the box, and it didn't take five years and twenty-million dollars to field one.
$639,000 or cheaper 2012 Armored GMC Yukon XL 4WD 8.1L V-8, LT
Package Level V (CEN B6)Pewter $119,500.
Interesting! It's fascinating to see crowdsourcing becoming ever more popular and making it into the mainstream of vehicle design. Not only is DARPA using it but so too are larger auto makers like Ford and Chevrolet. If you're interested, here's an article on still other automakers that are using crowdsourcing: blogs.ptc.com/2012/03/23/build-your-own-car-new-trends-in-auto-design-crowdsourcing/
I have crowdsourcing in my head.