AFWERX Vegas Inspires Innovation Through Two-Day Conference
AFWERX Vegas, a catalyst for innovation within the Air Force, gave attendees the tools to drive growth and shift paradigms during AFWERX Fusion Xperience, a two-day conference and technology expo at Enclave Las Vegas. The public event combined insightful presentations and workshops with demonstrations of cutting-edge technology to showcase AFWERX’s mission of problem-solving through collaboration and innovation.
Maj. Gen. Bradley D. Spacey of the U.S. Air Force put it best, “Our job is to build the structure and culture of innovation. We have to convince and teach innovators that their innovative ideas are scalable and reachable.” He continued, “The most junior people within the Air Force may have the most knowledge, but don’t have the authority to take their innovations to the next level. We aim to change that.”
Enticing activations throughout Enclave demonstrated AFWERX Vegas’ commitment to innovation. Upon entering the space, attendees were immersed in a tech-forward setting with humanoid robots on display from UNLV and a competitive robot anyone could challenge to a game of Perfection. Attendees began networking and making new connections underneath laser-projected logos in the lobby and logged on to the Fusion Xperience mobile app to lay out their schedule for the event.
Keynotes and Speakers
Brian Maue, CEO of AFWERX, provided opening remarks and introduced attendees to the Fusion Xperience with the goal of bringing together small businesses, entrepreneurs and academia to source innovative solutions for the Air Force. The first collection of keynotes from Lt. Gen. Jerry Harris of Headquarters Air Force and John Bunch of Zappos illustrated the need for innovation across government and commercial entities and how the two can work together.
The theme of spurring innovation continued with Jeff Schumacher, CEO and Founder of BCG Ventures, who provides a unique take on venture capital by both inventing and investing. His tools for success are based around his concept of solving frictions, or addressing specific problems. Friction drives growth and companies should be on the lookout for what pain points within a market they have the ability to alleviate.
Jason Korman spoke to instilling innovation within an organization by initiating culture change. In order to do this, the set beliefs and mindsets of the group must be articulated and visualized for stronger association and connection. As CEO and Co-Founder of Gapingvoid, Korman utilizes graphics and art to help convey these ideas and start a social narrative. Korman emphasized culture change comes from socializing with a purpose, and organizations must work from both top down and bottom up to make a difference.
During the most crowded session of the first day, attendees packed into the spacious Madrigal Room to hear perpetual entrepreneur and Atari founder Nolan Bushnell deliver anecdotes about his failures and success from the creation of Pong to his current venture, a free-roaming VR company dubbed Modal. His advice for the audience was to always look out for new projects, because habits aren’t good for the brain. Being forced to do things that may seem impossible can provide invaluable learning experiences.
In the exposition hall at Enclave, 60 teams from the AFWERX Fusion Challenge demonstrated unique technologies to advance perimeter security for Air Force applications and beyond. The concepts, ranging from new ideas to commercially available products, approached the problem of perimeter security from all different angles. From camera swarms to attack drones to flexible body armor, each innovation was selected by nation-wide subject matter experts from an applicant pool of more than 180 to exhibit at the AFWERX Fusion Xperience. In addition to live demonstrations at their booths, teams were given five minutes to pitch their technology on stage in front of the crowd. Conference attendees were also given a voice through the Fusion Xperience app, where they could rank their favorite ideas. At the conclusion of the event, a team of military security experts selected the top 10 teams to receive a “Fusion Ticket” which allows them access to funds, coaching and the AFWERX Vegas facility to further develop their innovation with the U.S. Air Force and AFWERX. The final teams selected were:
- Zenith Aerospace
- Easy Aerial Inc.
- 14bis Supply Tracking
- AFRL’s “Flexible Body”
- Citadel Defense Co.
- Air Force Research Laboratory
- Soar USA
- Protective Innovations
- Rozin Security
- AFRL’s “On Demand UAS”
Also part of the Fusion event was fusion taking place with other organizations contributing towards innovative solutions for the Air Force. SOFWERX held the final phase of its ThunderDrone RPE III competition seeking out the next level of counter-drone technology. Out of more than 100 teams who entered the competition, five were selected to test their solutions at the Nevada Test & Training Range. Live demonstrations from each participant were shown on the massive screen in the lobby while the action took place on the third floor of the venue. The winners, Team Dedrone, fused radar and acoustic systems to develop a drone defender gun, which can ground enemy drones without causing damage. The winners received $300,000 for 1st place, $200,000 for 2nd place and $100,000 for 3rd place.
Established in 2017 by the Secretary of the Air Force and reporting to the Vice Chief of Staff of the Air Force, AFWERX is a catalyst for agile Air Force engagement across industry, academia and non-traditional contributors to create transformative opportunities and foster an Air Force culture of innovation. The core mission of AFWERX is to improve Air Force capabilities by connecting innovators, simplifying technology transfer and accelerating results.