Turning an Idea into Game-changing Technology

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It all starts with an idea, the beginnings of an idea or just a new way of framing a seemingly unsolvable problem. From there, engineers spend months perfecting proposals, further defining their idea and determining the pay-off for the business in hopes of securing funding and support from Tech Probe Seedling (TPS) – a program aimed at helping Lockheed Martin engineers explore the next leap-frog technologies. Through an internal investment, TPS empowers engineers to step outside of their current projects and flesh out a “show stopping” idea or system concept that could become the next game-changing technological advancement for our customers.

“Seedling projects are all about fostering innovation and giving current engineers an opportunity to explore an idea or technology that they are really passionate about without investing a significant amount of time or money,” said Irene Helley, a systems engineer at the Skunk Works® and Tech Probe Seedling program manager.  “Ultimately, these engineers want to see their proposal come to fruition and turn into a technology or patent that helps our customers complete their missions.”

For the past seven years, engineers across all disciplines have submitted proposals – nearly 600 of them – focusing on innovative technologies and advancements that solve critical problems or enhance current platforms. Each year, after a comprehensive review process, a handful of proposals are selected for funding, and those teams or individuals spend the next six months researching and experimenting in hopes of turning their “seedling” into an applicable solution for a product or technology. Since the inception of the program, nearly 20 percent of the proposals have continued past Tech Probe Seedling and transitioned into patents, usable technologies or classified programs.

Atherton Carty, a principal systems engineer at the Skunk Works®, was a part of a team that completed a Tech Probe Seedling project that took an existing technology, generalized it and applied it to other platforms across Lockheed Martin.

While working as the deputy program manager for Hybrid Airships, Carty realized that a tool his team used to allow users and customers to experience flying an airship could have a much wider application.

“After recognizing the value that this simulator had on the Hybrid Airship, we started thinking about how we could take this capability and apply it to other platforms,” Carty said. “Because Tech Probe Seedling funding isn’t tied directly to any program, we knew that this was our opportunity to expand this user-friendly, cost-effective technology outside of our program.”

By the end of his TPS project, Carty’s team had developed a product that was ready to be used by other Lockheed Martin programs and could be customized to fit their specific needs. Now, two years after they completed their TPS project, his team’s simulator is being used throughout Aeronautics to give customers first-hand experience of what it’s like to fly non-traditional aircraft.

“Our ‘ADPSim’ simulator still serves a niche and meets a need – especially for the smaller teams and non-traditional programs,” Carty said. “Through Tech Probe Seedling, we were able to share our capability across the company, find new uses for it and give our customers better insight into our programs.” 

The TPS program not only enables engineers to develop an idea that might impact our business, it also allows enables sharing of best practices across a company that employs more than 100,000 people.

“One of the biggest benefits of this program is that it challenges you to step out of your box,” Carty said. “It allows you to collaborate with engineers outside of your department to cross-pollinate, which helps gives you a new perspective and evolve your idea or technology even further.”

Just as technology has evolved over the years, so has the TPS program. For the past two years, TPS has challenged the participants to focus their proposals on a specific area.  By concentrating on just one area, such as next generation air dominance, the program ensures that the ideas focus on business critical capabilities and platforms. This year’s concentration is hypersonics, a major area of growth for the corporation over the next few years.  

“Since its inception in 2007, the Tech Probe Seedling program has been focused on helping engineers develop innovative technologies that enhance our current portfolio,” Irene Helley said.  “We never know when the next TPS concept will become the next revolutionary technological advancement.”   

March 6, 2014

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highlights
  • Through an internal investment, Tech Probe Seedling empowers engineers to step outside of their current projects and flesh out a “show stopping” idea or system concept that could become the next game-changing technological advancement for our customers.
  • For the past seven years, engineers across all disciplines have submitted proposals focusing on innovative technologies and advancements that solve critical problems or enhance current platforms.
  • The TPS program not only enables engineers to develop an idea that might impact our business, it also allows enables sharing of best practices across a company.

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