Armed Forces Jam an innovation boom for military

Tyson Griffin has seen the evolution firsthand.

The long-held belief within the military that innovation must come from the Department of Defense has slowly been relinquished.

Instead, he has seen more embrace the notion that innovation that helps the U.S. Armed Forces can come from other sources, namely, the private sector.

“We recognize (now) that technology and the world itself has moved much quicker than our Cold War-based world can move,” said Griffin, the director of science and engineering for the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marines Orlando-based research, development and training site, known as NAWCTSD. “It’s taken us 20 years to understand that.”

As part of that process, the Orlando military community two years ago embraced Armed Forces Jam. The hackathon brings private sector professionals into a room for a weekend to build products for the military.

The Armed Forces Jam returns to Central Florida Tech Grove on Friday. Tickets remain available for those who want to attend, either as a developer, community supporter or team member.

Griffin appreciates This partnership with the public because it can offer solutions for real problems the military faces.

“We are now communicating to the world that we need to open our aperture,” he said. “The solution is not always living within our ecosystem but in other areas, like game development and other enterprises. To innovate, you have to open that aperture to bring in talent, ideas and invite them in rather than keep them at arm’s length.”

The mechanics of a hackathon

Armed Forces Jam starts Friday with military leaders letting those in attendance know some of the problems they face.

Teams form around specific projects and spend the weekend building, testing and showing off what they built in 48 hours.

“It really concentrates innovation in a short amount of time,” said Kunal Patel, cofounder of Indienomicon Foundation, which organizes Armed Forces Jam. “People always talk about what they want to do or achieve. But here, in 48 hours, you can have something visible and tangible.”

Indienomicon Foundation has hosted hackathons since its first event in January 2013. Ever since, it has become astaple in Central Florida’s technology community.

The results and attendance numbers have varied from year to year.

However, indienomicon continues to host hackathons that partner with the area’s space and health industries.

Indienomicon’s presence in Orlando received a jolt when it partnered with Orlando’s defense industry and launched Armed Forces Jam in 2021.

“There is a center of excellence in Central Florida with the Armed Forces,” Patel said. “But, like a lot of places, everybody has their heads down, working, almost living in a bubble. This acts as a bridge between bubbles.”

The event has found quick support among Orlando’s defense community.

“It’s a cool opportunity to get the rest of the community an understanding of what the DoD is up to and what problems they face,” said Tim Hill, former commander of NAWCTSD who expects to actively participate in the Armed Forces Jam for the first time this weekend.

Hill now serves as director of Central Florida operations and Florida innovation for Intuitive Research and Tech Corproation.

“This can open doors and minds to folks who maybe don’t think of defense as a business they’d thrive in.”

It’s Year 3 for Armed Forces Jam

Griffin has been involved with the Armed Forces Jam since its inception.

He said a mark of success has been seeing teams and participants return year after year.

In addition, he said the event has become one of his most anticipated events at the Central Florida Tech Grove because, among other things, it can expose the military to potential partners.

“That communication back to us allows us to be better decision-makers and challenge our preconceived notions about what your talent can bring to our mission,” he said. “Maybe the government is a scary thing to work with. But a game jam is an awesome opportunity to get in there, have fun and show what you are capable of.”