"Future DoD MII Potential Technology Focus Area" - Let Me Interpret

Updated due to DoD amendment on Feb 12th: Read The Amendment

It has come to our attention that small businesses, hacker teams, and independent labs are often unaware of small government grants/contracts as resource. If obtained they can represent as much as 6-12 months of a project budget. Additionally, receiving a government grant can help build legitimacy for your projects for attracting venture capital or other opportunities by underscoring that your work has been vetted through a competitive process. Even thought the application processes can be labor heavy, if the funding doesn't happen, the effort of putting detailed R&D plans on paper can be re-used in other grants or in-house planning. Some rejected proposals come with feedback to why they were not chosen, which is a excellent way to strengthen project plans. 

The Request For Information (RFI - unfunded) is often a pre-cursor to a Request For Proposal period (RFP - funded in cash or high value in-kind services). One barrier to entry is just wading through all of the bureaucratic language and sprawling documents that sometimes miss key information (e.g. why is there no address for where to send this???). To help ourselves through a current RFI submission we just did a full breakout of relevant information, and thought sharing it would be a good resource for folks who might submit to this call, or as an introduction to the kinds of things the government is looking at.

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The U.S. Government through the Department of Defense (DoD) is looking to invest in innovation by setting up public-private partnerships. Each one would consist of a non-profit organization leading a consortium of companies, academic institutions, laboratories, and state/local governments and activities. The over-arching goal of these Manufacturing Innovation Institutes (MII) is to close the complex transition gaps between early R&D activity and the full-scale, domestic production of goods.

Why is this important to Super-Releaser and other soft roboticists? Right now, Soft Robotics is one of the possible topics for this form of investment, and it will be competing with other domains for resources. To aid in choosing which MIIs to fund, the DoD has put out a call that relevant parties respond to a Request For Information (RFI).

So anyone who stands to benefit from increased support for Soft Robotics manufacturing is invited to weigh in. Since the request is buried under a lot of bureaucratic language, here is the quick rundown:

The answers to the following questions are due by post on March 22, 2016, 3:00pm EST. Interested parties should answer in 25 pages or fewer (you can add additional information up until the page limit).

  • What are the common manufacturing challenges within the TRL/MRL 4-7 area for the technology that are beyond the investment risk of industry, and what are the opportunities for investment that would make a significant national impact? (DoD recommends info at http://dodmrl.com/ , but wikipedia is quicker to parse for TRL and MRL.)

  • What evidence is there of critical technical mass for building upon an existing regional hub(s) of excellence to create a national center of expertise as an MII? (Our interpretation: Is there a region/location with a lot of technical expertise, which would be a logical location for the proposed Soft Robotics MII?)

  • What is the likelihood that the technology could generate at least $75M in cost share to match a similar government investment?

  • What is the current state of U.S. manufacturing capability associated with this technology, and what strategies may be required to ensure a successful domestic industrial base? Are there key areas in which the U.S. has a significant lead? Are there areas where U.S. is trailing foreign capabilities? If so, what are they?

  • What are the domestic and global markets for the technology? (please address defense as well as non-defense applications)

  • Within any technical focus area suggested, is there a subset of the technology that you would focus the institute on in order to achieve market potential?

  • What would be the potential business case/benefits as well as the national economic impact if an institute were launched in the technology area (i.e., jobs, gross domestic product, etc.)?

  • What evidence would indicate that the institute could be self-sustaining (i.e., no need for federal sustaining funding) after 5-7 years?

  • What is the likelihood that you would bid (as a prime or as a team member) on a future government solicitation to lead or be part of an institute in the technology area you are suggesting?

  • What workforce education or skills must be substantially developed to support successful transition to production in the U.S. in this technology focus area?

  • If the technology focus area you are suggesting is substantially defense unique, what opportunities for commercial breakthroughs are there?

  • What is the potential market failure(s) being addressed by this topic?

  • Within this technology focus area, what type of capital equipment is needed, how much of it is available to support a manufacturing commons, and where is it? 

  • What would be the potential impact on national security if an MII were launched in the technology focus area?

Format and Deadline

  • Maximum of 25 pages including any title page

  •  8 1⁄2”x11”paper

  • One-inch margins

  • Times New Roman 12-point font or larger

  • Unclassified

  • No proprietary information or markings (failure to comply will disqualify the submission)

  • No marketing information, commercial documentation, or product literature

  • No endorsements from elected officials at the federal, state, and/or local level

  • Microsoft Word format, NOT PDF!

  • Submitted on a CD or DVD, NOT USB, NOT via email, NO hard copies

  • Submitted by post to: AFRL/RQKMS ATTN: Mary Ann Sharits 2130 Eighth Street, Building 45 WPAFB, OH 45433 E-mail: mary.sharits@us.af.mil; Telephone: (937) 713-9898

  • Due date 3:00 PM Local Time, 22 March 2016 (Late responses will not be considered)

If you'd like to take a look at the full text of the RFI, you can find it on the DoD's official call. It has tons more information, including areas of Soft Robotics that they envision becoming useful in the future to DoD and the public, in-depth technical descriptions of what MIIs are, and information on the other domains being investigated. 

Super-Releaser does plan on sending in a response to the RFI, heavily drawing upon language from past proposals. We hope other roboticists, particularly ones who have not engaged with government contracting before, choose to do the same!

Kari Love