The Department of the Air Force is again fielding pitches for savvy new schemes and clever gizmos as a part of its annual Spark Tank competition.

Airmen and guardians of all ranks have until Sept. 4 to submit their “best ideas for improving the department’s capabilities.” Finalists will have the chance to present their proposals to a panel of senior department leaders and industry figures.

“Spark Tank provides a public-facing platform to showcase innovative ideas across the [Department of Air Force],” said Aaron Beebe, the Spark Tank project manager for AFWERX, an Air Force tech acceleration program. “These are real problems experienced daily by those trying to do their jobs and accomplish the mission. We ask them to help us solve them through a more streamlined approach.”

Piloted in 2017, the department’s “Shark Tank” knockoff formed part of a broader campaign to expedite and cheapen the process of finding and developing new technologies. AFWERX launched the same year in hopes of lowering barriers between entrepreneurs and the Air Force’s procurement teams. Individual installations have begun hosting innovation competitions of their own.

The service-wide Spark Tank has shepherded several ‘sky-breaking’ innovations from dorms and base shops to the forefront of the acquisitions process over its seven-year existence.

Last year’s winners, Master Sgt. Sarah Hubert and Tech. Sgt. Raymond Zgoda at Yokota Air Base in Japan, came up with an idea to use ground penetrating radar and augmented reality goggles to precisely map underground pipes, wires and fiber-optic lines on military bases, preventing accidental breaks caused by construction, and also to scan for damages.

The judges selecting the winning gadget included Air Force Chief of Staff CQ Brown, Chief of Space Operations Gen. B. Chance Saltzman, an NBA executive, and the founder of tech-focused merchant bank Global Silicon Valley.

The 2024 iteration of the event will pair participants with consultants to help their ideas take flight.

Jaime Moore-Carrillo is an editorial fellow for Military Times and Defense News. A Boston native, Jaime graduated with degrees in international affairs, history, and Arabic from Georgetown University, where he served as a senior editor for the school's student-run paper, The Hoya.

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