This week, a new collaborative workspace and innovation lab in Delaware launched in what some might see as an unexpected place — Dover Air Force Base.
Called Bedrock, the Dover AFB innovation lab is 5,000 square feet. That includes a large collaboration space, a virtual reality classroom, a podcast recording studio and a prototyping lab with 3D printers.
The Air Force first initiated an innovation office program in 2016, putting installation-level hubs on bases, including DAFB. In January of 2019, led by Installation Commander Col. Matthew Jones, the program was expanded into the new, larger space. It was designed and created primarily by Airmen and volunteers on the base, who brought a spark to the project, said Capt. Ryan Nichol, DAFB Chief Innovation Officer, in an interview with Technical.ly.
“The nice thing about innovation is the people that are interested in it are extremely passionate and dedicated volunteers.” Nichol said.
The lab is open to anyone on base looking to collaborate or develop ideas.
“Airmen, active, reserve or civilian members of our installation can come work with each other, so pilots and security forces, defenders, civil engineers — anyone can get together and tackle problems,” Nichol said. “It’s one central location where we field ideas. It doesn’t matter if you’re the youngest or newest Airman on the base, or the most senior ranking. We evaluate ideas based on merit, not necessarily off of the rank of the individual.”
The lab, intentionally designed to have a Silicon Valley feel, is new. But Bedrock Innovation Office has already established its value.
“The biggest proof of success for the program was main gate traffic flow,” said Nichol. “We were working with contracting, and they had a proposed $123,000 solution. When the idea was pitched to our Bedrock Innovation Office here, we collaborated with security forces and civil engineers. We were able to devise a solution for a fraction of the cost — less than $3,000.”
When the pandemic lockdown hit in March, several members brought 3D printers home, temporarily, to produce face shields for medical professionals.
The lab is also the home to the podcast “Bedrock,” available on Spotify and Apple Music, which recently completed its 20th episode.
While Bedrock aims to foster innovative technologies for the Air Force, it also has a community focus, said Nichol. This includes partnerships with the University of Delaware and Horn Entrepreneurship, a relationship facilitated by Rob Nicholson, solutions integrator for the Delaware Department of Technology and Information.
“We want a creative space that offers creativity and inspires our Airmen to ‘fail forward,’ to bring in their ideas and push the boundaries.” said Nichol. “This program is vital to our success in the Air Force.”