Raytheon has been running an internal challenge for several years, asking employees to propose “disruptive” ideas that can be inserted into its technology roadmaps. “The Raytheon Innovation Challenge is not limited in scope,” says Mark Russell, vice president for engineering, technology and mission assurance. “Each year we pose 5-6 challenges. We say here's a problem 10 years down the road, we're not looking for tomorrow's answer, but something innovative.”
While technologists can follow a career-long path to become one of Raytheon's 150 principal engineering fellows, the challenge deliberately casts a wider net and draws around 200 proposals each year. “More than two-thirds of responses are from people who have been with Raytheon for less than 10 years,” he says.
One goal is to motivate engineers “to step out of their day job and tackle a problem they are not assigned to at the moment,” Russell says. Lockheed's internal challenge was structured similarly, to encourage employees “out of thinking about day-to-day problems,” says Johnson, adding “Apart from the financial reward, people want to get noticed.”
“If we get a good solution, we fund it for a while, then eventually get customer contract R&D to follow,” says Russell. The winner keeps ownership of the idea. “We do not hand it over to another group. That's the worst thing we can do. It would stifle their passion.” Winning ideas have included using biometrics to monitor attention span at workstations to sense when operators are getting overloaded. “They are all based around our missions, such as analyzing data from UAVs,” he says.
To celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2012, Lockheed Martin set no small goals for its Innovate the Future challenge. “We looked for ideas critical to the world community; global issues such as health care, clean water, renewable energy and cybersecurity,” says Johnson. The challenge “was the first of its kind on a global scale for the aerospace industry,” he believes.
“We posed one question: how do we enable a more secure future?” says Johnson. “Our focus is global security, but health care, water, and energy all affect security, directly or indirectly.” The response “proved this type of challenge is very powerful.”
The external competition was designed to help Lockheed engage with a new generation of innovators. “Sometimes it is hard for the aerospace and defense industry to connect to a diverse community,” says Johnson. “We are encouraged by the response—nearly 500 ideas, covering a wide range, from more than 130 countries.”
Three third prizes of $5,000 each went to ideas for early cancer detection, autonomic malware detection and avatar-assisted therapy. A second prize of $10,000 went to an idea to enhance solar cell efficiency using photonic design. And the grand prize of $25,000 went to Moble Benedict of the University of Maryland for a vertical-axis micro wind turbine with dynamic blade pitching for use in urban environments.
The internal competition challenged Lockheed employees to take creativity and apply it to affordability, and generated 670 ideas, says Johnson. A goal was to encourage “horizontal integration” by sharing ideas across the company “in a way that they do not do in their natural environment.”