State and local governments have learned about the benefits of crowdsourcing and today use the power of the public to get new ideas, speed up development times and launch new applications. But the federal government is using crowdsourcing too -- to develop their design tools and build a tank. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) started a new program called Adaptive Vehicle Make (AVM), which includes using the public to test the agency’s design tools and submit their designs. More than 1,000 people contributed their powertrain and suspension designs to the first phase of the "Fast, Adaptable, Next-Generation Ground Vehicle" (FANG) project, a challenge to build an amphibious attack vehicle.

The first phase of the FANG challenge ended on April 15. On April 22, a winner was chosen and awarded a one million dollar prize. The next phase of the project, FANG 2, will begin in 2014 and focus on the chassis and survivability of the vehicle. In 2015, FANG 3 will focus on designing an entire vehicle from scratch.

While state and local governments have found crowdsourcing an effective way of engaging citizens and setting budget priorities, DARPA is using crowdsourcing as a way to speed up the development process while refining its design tools. “AVM is ultimately all about how do we compress that development timeline of a complex system for military application,” said Army Lt. Col. Nathan Wiedenman, AVM program manager. “For me and for DARPA, the challenge was an opportunity to put the tools at their current state of development through their paces, test them at scale, get a lot of eyes looking at them and help us make them better. But we will continue to develop those tools and expand their capability over the future design iterations of FANG 2, FANG 3.”

The tools offered by DARPA include design, development, and verification software tools. Participants from the public design and model their concepts and get feedback from an analytical and manufacturability standpoint. While FANG is being used as a guinea pig to develop the AVM program, it may eventually be refined to meet the standards of the Marine Corps, Wiedenman said.

Now that the first phase of the FANG challenge is complete, the DARPA build team based at Penn State University is working on building their design. “Ordering the parts, materials, getting labor online to build that, actually put it through its paces, put it through physical testing and feed that information coming out of the testing, that empirical test data, back into how well the tools can represent and predict the expected performance behavior of the subsystem being designed.”

Using crowdsourcing may prove to bring costs down, but for now, Wiedenman said, the AVM program is mainly being used as a way to test tools more quickly. Overall, he reports that the program is going as planned.

“We got a lot of feedback, obviously not all of it rainbows and sunshine,” he said. “This is a research and development project and the tools are under development so there are rough edges that we’re continuing to work out, but in general I think the feedback was extremely helpful," Wiedenman added, noting that comments were mostly positive and participants had a good experience.

Image courtesy of DARPA Adaptive Vehicle Make Program.

Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog.