Open-source design often leads to great software, such as the Linux operating system and the Firefox web browser. But can the military use the concept to create a new rescue vehicle?
Sure, you can drive it. But can you build it?
The army's secretive technology division has been collecting dozens of ideas for the design of its in-the-works rescue vehicle via a social-media contest -- relying solely on the power of the crowd to get the next big thing built.
So perhaps the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will build the Armadillo, a vehicle with an extendable "tail" that creates more room in a back compartment for up to three injured war fighters to rest comfortably until they return to base for medical attention.
It has terrific wide windows for a good look around and a roof that slides open if you need to take a 360-degree survey of the area.
Or maybe the Department of Defense (DoD) instead will produce the Padré, a reconfigurable vehicle that provides maximum comfort to the scout team riding in it. Soldiers can change its modular storage system to hold cargo or to connect sensor units or a weapon.
Or DARPA could choose to cruise in the T34: Soldiers can connect light armor panels to its side when they enter a hot zone to rescue their compatriots -- and ditch the armor to roll really fast. It sports periscope visors along its side to expand the field of vision for the crew, regardless of its armored state.
As intriguing as these vehicles are, what's cooler is the idea behind it: the potential for ordinary people to collaborate on something as important as a new military vehicle.
Anyone at all can submit a design, draw over existing designs or provide in-depth comments for their creators to incorporate. Designs can then be adapted and resubmitted, up until the deadline. Local Motors of Chandler, Ariz., is running the competition, officially known as the Experimental Crowd-derived Combat-support Vehicle (XC2V) Design Challenge, through March 10.
It’s not so different than when multiple users edit a page on Wikipedia, Local Motors CEO John Rogers told FoxNews.com.
“Effectively, we want to co-create all aspects of a vehicle,” Rogers explained. “The Wikipedia method of co-creation is really not far off from the way we talk about it. It is the collaboration between a company and a customer or a company and a community of people who are enthusiasts or informants. And we want all of those people to take part in the creation of this vehicle.”
The military will judge the submissions and build a concept model from the winner in June. Such co-creation of vehicles, tapping into the power of the Internet to "crowd source" design, is the specialty of Local Motors, Rogers said.
So perhaps someone has a great ideal for a specific part of a vehicle and how it could operate more efficiently. But someone else has studied the perspective of enemy forces, and better knows how they would react to such a part. Perhaps yet another contributor would have great insight into how to supply those parts.
“All of these people have a stake. They are stakeholders in a vehicle when it is produced. So co-creation is about tying into those groups and getting those people to inform the process,” Rogers declared.
Rogers stressed that the co-creation process does not leave things to chance. Local Motors guides it. Some of the decisions on the XC2V vehicle have been made already, for example, like the basic, downloadable 3-D models that designers build their additions over.
The competition is a co-creation effort, therefore, because participants are working with Local Motors -- not by themselves. “We don’t hold ourselves bound in our vehicle development process to have to ask the crowd for an example and a competition and a discussion on every aspect of the vehicle,” Rogers noted.
The XC2V Design Challenge, which already has dozens of incomplete entries after running for slightly over a week as of press time, will result in the construction of a concept vehicle, said Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, deputy program manager for the DARPA Adaptive Vehicle Make portfolio, which is testing the waters with the XC2V Design Challenge.
In this way, the process for creating the XC2V vehicle itself serves as a proof of concept. If it works, DARPA will refine the process of crowd-sourcing and start a series of prize challenges that will result in a true infantry fighting vehicle.
“Adaptive Vehicle Make is about more than just building an infantry fighting vehicle; it’s about building a new process and a new set of tools to support that process to allow us to design complex, cyber-electro-mechanical military system much faster."
"It takes us 10 or 20 years to develop a complex military system like a jet or a ship or a tank. We want to reduce that by a factor of five to ten,” Wiedenman told FoxNews.com.