November 05, 2012
Credit: Credit: USMC
Graham Warwick Washington
Build it and they will come, the saying goes. But for the Pentagon's advanced-research arm, in its drive to cut weapon-system development times by a factor of five, the maxim is build it and they will believe it. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) plans to prove it by designing an infantry fighting vehicle in one year, not the five it could take using traditional methods. Through a series of three design challenges, the Fast, Adaptable, Next-Generation (FANG) ground vehicle is to be built and tested alongside the U.S. Marine Corps' conventionally developed Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) to see how it compares.
With a $4 million prize purse, FANG is a real-world test of all the elements of Darpa's Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM) portfolio of programs: the model-based design, integration and verification tools, collaborative engineering environment and foundry-style programmable manufacturing.
When the initial FANG Challenge begins in January, it will be the first time participants get to use the design tools, model libraries and cooperation portal that Darpa is developing under AVM. “In mid-January, teams will be able to download the tools and explore the supporting component model libraries to start putting their designs together,” says Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, Darpa program manager.
Darpa is hoping FANG will attract not only the defense primes, but also entities and individuals who would not normally compete and could bring innovative ideas. “We really want to open the aperture to nontraditional design entities; folks who have the skills, but don't traditionally have a mechanism by which they can participate in the development of military vehicles,” he says.
“I can be a transmission engineer for a civilian firm who really knows my stuff, [and] I can log on, join and participate in a meaningful way,” Wiedenman says. It is not crowd-sourcing in the traditional sense. “AVM and FANG are more focused on someone who has the technical training and skills to be an engineer in complex cyberphysical systems, but who doesn't have a way to provide any input.”
FANG will be the test of the new tools' ability to raise the level of abstraction so more people can understand the design, and of the collaboration environment so that more people can participate.
The Meta toolset will allow teams to compose designs using models from the component, context and model library (C2M2L, or “Camel”), explore a wide trade space, integrate structural and computational models with all their interactions, assess the complexity of different designs, and test them against realistic models of the operational environment and requirements to see if they work as intended.