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DOD Takes Hackathon to University of Michigan

Sept. 23, 2019 | BY Navy Lt. Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson

The Defense Department today is wrapping up a three-day "hackathon" aimed at using artificial intelligence for aircraft maintenance.

Held at the University of Michigan's School of Aerospace Engineering in Ann Arbor, the event brought together more than 50 computer hackers from academia and commercial industry in the Detroit area to work alongside 30 DOD end user military maintainers to share ideas and explore AI solutions for predictive maintenance.

The collaboration between the hackers and our military maintainers provided thought-provoking and meaningful ideas to advance AI-enabled solutions ..."
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center

"The Department of Defense is a large and dynamic enterprise, but it represents only a fraction of the U.S. population," said Morgan Plummer, managing director of the National Security Innovation Network. "We want to hear the ideas and harness the creativity of students and industry professionals to help the Department of Defense [find] AI-enabled solutions for predictive maintenance that will make us safer and more efficient."

The hackathon was sponsored by the National Security Innovation Network and the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.

A man holding a microphone stands at a low table in front of a projection screen with illegible text on it.
Marine Mentor
Marine Corps Maj. Dan Tadross, a mentor from the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, speaks to hackers working on artificial intelligence solutions for aircraft maintenance at the National Security Innovation Network “Into the Dataverse” Hackathon. The event was held at the University of Michigan’s School of Aerospace Engineering in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sept. 21, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Lt. Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson, DOD
VIRIN: 190921-D-MC823-001C

"Our goal is to increase the quality and fidelity of the data we collect," said Marine Corps Maj. Dan Tadross, an AI mentor from the JAIC. "This requires hackers to explore divergent thoughts and propose imaginative and unique solutions that we in the Department of Defense might not have thought about before."

The hackathon challenged participants to examine two primary focus areas with data collection and user interface. Hackers were asked to present AI solutions for recognizing, classifying and quantifying maintainer actions in a way that's intuitive for end users. 

Solutions were evaluated by a panel of judges based on the potential impact, validation, level of demonstration and the viability of bringing the solution to market. The winning teams received up to $15,000 to advance their concepts in collaboration with the National Security Innovation Network. 

Three prizes were awarded. 

"This hackathon brought together a diverse group of incredibly talented and innovative people who, in a very short time, developed and presented creative solutions to a challenging problem," said Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and one of the judges.

"The collaboration between the hackers and our military maintainers provided thought-provoking and meaningful ideas to advance AI-enabled solutions in the important field of predictive maintenance," he said. "It's exactly the kind of relationship we want to foster across the entire JAIC."

A man holding a microphone stands in front of a projection screen that reads “Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan.”
Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jack Shanahan, director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, speaks to hackers working on artificial intelligence solutions for aircraft predictive maintenance at the National Security Innovation Network and JAIC hackathon challenge at the University of Michigan’s School of Aerospace Engineering in Ann Arbor, Mich., Sept. 22, 2019.
Photo By: Navy Lt. Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson, DOD
VIRIN: 190922-D-MC823-002C

NSIN is a DOD program that reports to the undersecretary of defense for research and engineering through the Defense Innovation Unit. Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia, NSIN  has regional offices in 10 commercial innovation hubs throughout the United States. 

Through its headquarters, regional hubs and embedded university partnerships, NSIN builds a national network of innovators and delivers programming that solves problems through collaboration with nontraditional problem-solvers in academia and early-stage commercial ventures.

JAIC's mission is to accelerate the adoption and integration of artificial intelligence in the U.S. military. The center serves as the focal point for the execution of DOD's artificial intelligence strategy, which supports the 2018 National Defense Strategy. 

JAIC is guided by ethics and leadership as core foundations to its mission.

(Navy Lt. Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson is assigned to the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center.)