ARLINGTON, Va.—A wetsuit to help Navy divers fight the deadly effects of hypothermia. A portable power source for warfighters serving in desolate combat zones.
These are just two products to emerge from the Naval Enterprise Partnership Teaming with Universities for National Excellence initiative—known as NEPTUNE.
NEPTUNE’s mission: leveraging the unique experiences, knowledge and “can-do” attitude of military students with delivery of university-derived technologies. The effort has been so successful that NEPTUNE 2.0 will launch in early 2020—providing new research grants to universities to align naval and national defense strategy requirements with campus laboratory capabilities.
Launched in 2015 by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), NEPTUNE sponsors university research, which enables military students (veterans and active duty) to connect education with entrepreneurial practice—developing technology for defense and commercial applications.
“NEPTUNE’s very impressive results stem from the fact our students are not your traditional students,” said Maria Medeiros, a program officer in ONR’s Mission Capable, Persistent and Survivable Naval Platforms Department. “The veterans and military students are mature; have real, hands-on experience in solving problems; and are ready to address naval challenges.”
Currently, NEPTUNE sponsors research projects at six civilian universities, the U.S. Naval Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School. Since its inception, it has involved more than 225 veterans and active-duty students in 34 different projects—resulting in 22 patents, a strong record of employment in technology industries and multiple veteran-owned business start-ups.
Projects use theoretical research to develop products that can be used by today’s warfighters. The goal is for student projects to address real-world problems. To achieve this, NEPTUNE project teams must include military students to ensure that evaluations of proposed solutions incorporate their practical experiences in uniform.
The program also connects universities with the military, so Sailors and Marines can test new technologies and give direct feedback to researchers.
One product resulting from NEPTUNE is a diver wetsuit developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The wetsuit creates an artificial blubber for divers, which combats hypothermia and increases swimming efficiency.
Another success story is a portable microgrid created at Arizona State University (ASU). A microgrid can disconnect from a main power grid and operate autonomously. This means deployed warfighters can transport and connect to mobile power sources in remote locations.
So far, NEPTUNE has trained over 200 military students on microgrid technology. The partnership with ASU has resulted in several working prototypes—yielding three patents and multiple licensing and business opportunities.
ASU student and Navy veteran Timothy Ward said NEPTUNE had a dramatic impact on his civilian career at General Electric: “I strongly believe [NEPTUNE] opened doors for me at GE, equipping me to launch a career in the power industry after graduation.”
When NEPTUNE 2.0 begins in 2020, there will be an increased focus on entrepreneurship. This will ensure that ONR is not only supporting military students in developing job skills, but also empowering them to start businesses to develop prototypes benefiting the defense and commercial sectors.
Dr. Richard Carlin, who directs ONR’s technology accelerator programs, said: “NEPTUNE is a scalable model that incorporates university-developed technologies into potential capabilities for the Navy and Marine Corps. Innovation hubs nationwide—known as Tech Bridges—are being established to further connect NEPTUNE students and projects with local small businesses and Navy resources to develop and test their ideas.”
For more information about NEPTUNE, visit the ONR website.
Scott Hochenberg is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.