Source: US Government research organizations
The largest prize challenge in NIST’s history reached its culmination last month as contestants of the Tech to Protect Challenge, a software development prize competition birthed by NIST’s Public Safety Communications Research division (PSCR) with partners the First Responder Network Authority and FirstNet by AT&T, earned nearly $500K in funding for exhibiting progress toward commercialization after gaining initial funding during the May Demonstration Round contest.
For the Final Seed and Progress round, which was judged in late November, nine competitors won awards ranging from $49K-70K. Two competitors earned the highest possible $70K award: Next-Gen MCPTT for their innovative methods of device-to-device (D2D) communication; and Bio1 Systems’ PhysioCap for their mass casualty incident clinical data capture and transfer system. Read more about the top two competitors below:
Next-Gen MCPTT aims to improve the efficiency of delivering mission critical communications by enabling D2D correspondence, floor management, and playback capabilities. By creating a system that stores, pauses, and replays messages both online and offline, this app could save precious time for first responders by eliminating the need to repeatedly ask for information. Additionally, while traditional push-to-talk (PTT) platforms require the speaker to wait for the floor to become clear before sending a message, Next-Gen MCPTT aims to automatically deliver messages when the floor becomes available, and also stores them so the user can switch to other conversations as needed.
Bio1 Systems’ PhysioCap
Bio1 Systems’ PhysioCap is intended to streamline the process for clinical data capture and transfer during mass casualty incidents. Leveraging a wristband triage tag with a unique QR code, Bio1 Systems has developed a communication platform aiming to transfer life-saving information for pre-hospital care. Bio1 Systems’ custom hardware and software manage modern triage by using automatic object detection to scan the patient’s wristband, perform an assessment, and generate an electronic patient care record (ePCR). The ePCR is then uploaded to the cloud in a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA)-compliant data repository. Medical professionals could use the Bio1 Systems dashboard to review incoming patients’ data and also show a map of where patients are being transported and triaged.
Contestants were judged by leaders in public safety from within the government and private sector. Those that demonstrated the best fulfillment of achieving their growth plan goals were rewarded between $70K maximum and $0 minimum. This final round financially rewarded nine competitors with $497K cumulatively. Moving forward, each of the contestants will include a short summary of their commercialization plans going forward. “Although this is not part of the judging process, we hope that Tech to Protect has inspired each contestant team to continue working towards supporting public safety in the future,” said Craig Connelly, a PSCR Prize Challenge Manager working on Tech to Protect.
Since 2017, PSCR’s Open Innovation Program has leveraged the resources of external organizations (including industry, academia, and public safety professionals) to accelerate the development of public safety communications technologies. On a mission to create a framework which enables work with individuals, companies, organizations, and academic institutes in more rapid and collaborative ways than traditional procurements, Tech to Protect exemplified the need for such open competitions in government research and development (R&D). When asked to reflect further on Tech to Protect, Mr. Connelly states three key lessons learned from the experience:
- Always focus on the mission – It was imperative to remember the goal of Tech to Protect along each phrase of the challenge. Therefore each step of the program focused specifically on public safety users, their requirements and use cases.
- Getting products “to market” takes collaboration – “We are so grateful for the co-sponsorship across public and private sectors that made the transition from R&D and prototyping to commercialization more likely – specifically our co-sponsorship with the First Responder Network Authority and FirstNet built with AT&T. The App Catalog and Developer program is an accessible pathway to commercialization for these technologies.”
- Innovation is everywhere – The Tech to Protect Challenge created a fair and open field of competition which enabled individuals with different skills and interests to be competitive and successful. “We are very proud of the diversity within our cohort – measured in many different ways (gender, age, race, educational background, geographic location, etc.). This program showed the important of reducing barriers to entry and encouraging open and accessible opportunities to collaborate with public safety,” said Mr. Connelly.
From Concept to Commercialization
At the May 2020 National Award Event, PSCR awarded more than $800K to 25 finalists in the Tech to Protect Challenge for their work towards designing apps that further the mission of emergency responders. Since then, 12 contestants were selected to continue developing their custom growth strategies. Some even developed the first commercial versions of their software. “This has been an exciting opportunity to connect the work of Tech to Protect contestants to the growing network of app users in the FirstNet App Store and Catalog [which provides an inventory of public safety-driven mobile tools],” said Gary Howarth, a PSCR Prize Challenge Manager working on Tech to Protect. “They have been working on everything from adding features requested by public safety experts, to developing marketing content to attract their first customers,” Mr. Howarth added. Collaboration with public safety end users is a critical component of any PSCR investment.
Mr. Connelly, expanded on the importance of this effort: “Tech to Protect is a program that shows what is possible [with app development for public safety], and how it might be accomplished. There are many different approaches to be considered for replications in the future.”
About Tech to Protect
Launched in 2019, “The Tech to Protect Challenge: Coding for Emergency Responders,” was a nationwide innovation contest featuring ten discrete problem statements designed to develop new, creative technologies to address issues faced by fire, law enforcement, and EMS. The participant-proposed solutions were aimed at supporting first responders’ use of advanced communications technologies in accomplishing their day-to-day activities, critical responsibilities in emergencies, and beyond.