In March 2011, the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), in partnership with the Wright Brothers Institute, launched a new Open Innovation Pavilion on InnoCentive, an online innovation marketplace that poses current challenges and offers cash awards for solutions. They opened with four technical challenges:
The Design and Simulation of an Accurate Shooter-Locator competition challenged respondents to develop a method to detect small arms fire within a fraction of a second and accurately pinpoint the source;
The Humanitarian Air Drop challenge sought novel ways to drop humanitarian supplies into populated areas without danger from falling debris;
The Vehicle Stopper challenge sought a viable, sustainable and affordable means of stopping an uncooperative fleeing vehicle, without permanent damage to the vehicle or harm to passengers; and
The Remote Human Demographic Characterization challenge needed a system that could determine the approximate age and gender of small groups of people at a distance.
A team of AFRL researchers evaluated respondents’ proposals after 60 days, and awarded Dante Barbis, a retired mechanical engineer from Lima, Peru, $25,000 for the rights to use his “airbag vehicle” design. The AFRL is working on developing a prototype of the remote-controlled vehicle that can deploy an airbag under a fleeing car and slide it to a stop—perhaps helping to put an end to dangerous high-speed car chases.
The electric-powered vehicle can accelerate up to 130 mph within three seconds. Unlike current high-speed-chase deterrents, such as tire shredder strips or devices that entangle a car’s wheels, which need to be pre-determined, the airbag vehicle could be deployed as needed for multiple law enforcement and military uses.
If the system passes all operational testing, the prototype will be demonstrated to the USAF security forces and the design will be transitioned for operational use.