Yesterday, I visited DOT's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The Volpe Center, operated by DOT's Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA), is internationally recognized for its expertise; through research and development, engineering, and analysis, the Center helps lead transportation into the 21st century. It is a catalyst for innovation.
At Volpe, I saw a lot of different programs; one look at the "What's New" section of their website, and I think you'll see what a dynamic place it is.
One program that particularly captured my interest is the Global Maritime Domain Awareness Program, winner of a 2008 Innovations in American Government Award from Harvard University. Simply, the Global Maritime Domain Awareness Program tracks maritime vessels around the world and shares the tracking information with all participating nations. This enhances safety, security, and economic stability on the global seas.
The great thing about this system is that it was put together quickly for very little money using existing transmitter technology, much of which was already in place aboard the world's ships. By adding receivers, participating nations contribute a piece to the global maritime puzzle. But in exchange for contributing that piece, the participant gets to see the whole puzzle. Much of the software was developed based on existing Volpe Center work, and the new receivers are antenna-based and inexpensive compared to 20th century radar systems.
In fact, the system came into development in 2006 when Admiral Harry Ulrich, Commander, US Naval Forces Europe, wanted a system to monitor ship traffic im the Mediterranean for anti-terror security purposes. He turned to the Volpe system when the usual defense contractors gave him estimates of tens of millions of dollars and multiple years to completion. When the Volpe Center came back to him saying, "It should cost a few hundred thousand dollars and 'Is next Tuesday soon enough," Adm. Ulrich knew he had his team.
So, let's review: The program was developed rapidly; it costs very little; it brings the world's nations together for a common purpose; and our harbors and goods are safer. No wonder that the program caught the attention of Steven Goldsmith, director of the awards at the Ash Institute of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government:
“The Volpe Center's practices not only advance security on international seaways, but also show how innovation can arise from the creative and collaborative use of existing assets.”
Looks like government is working up at the Volpe Center. Thanks to the Global Maritime Domain Awareness Program team and to all the folks at the Volpe Center; I hope to come back again to see what else you've come up with.