MITRE's ACME Lab Drives New Thinking

November 2010
Topics: Technological Innovations, Collaborative Decision Making, Collaborations, MITRE's Systems Engineering Role
MITRE's ACME Lab is an incubator for fresh thinking.

Technological innovation is part of MITRE's culture and charter. The corporation's Agile Capability Mashup Environment (ACME) Lab is an incubation environment that drives new thinking. In the lab, sponsors can come together with MITRE experts to quickly attack problems, brainstorm approaches, and prototype potential implementations in an agile way. The purpose of the ACME Lab is for sponsors to ultimately benefit from a solution of integrated technology—a solution that might not have otherwise occurred.

Recent ACME events have shaped work program direction in critical areas like unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), command and control (C2) information synthesis, cooperative intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR), operations-intelligence integration, C2 cyberspace integration, agile software development, network operations management, emergency preparedness/response, and MITRE's Composable Capabilities on Demand initiative.

Regardless of the challenge, enthusiasm, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a willingness to be flexible are the lab's hallmarks.

Rallying Around a Sponsor Problem

We work with customers to apply existing products, projects, or programs developed internally (and by other customers, industry, and academia), to a specific mission theme in the ACME Lab. ACME's problem-solving techniques are rich in productive interaction that fosters entrepreneurial collaboration. Developing animated scenarios to test concepts like intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance interoperability solutions are emblematic of our work.

The ACME Lab encourages creativity through easy-to-use "think tools" not normally found in a typical lab: smart boards, a touch table, battlespace visualization equipment, interactive media, and even LEGO building blocks. There's also MITRE's Collaborative Story Development Kit (CSDK), which helps create complex multimedia projects, or simple videos that make the telling of a complicated story much easier.

How ACME Works

Though every ACME experiment is different, there are several elements you'll find in every exercise:

  • Closing the Gap: Many ACME experiments are motivated by a gap in sponsor capabilities, either a reactive one (addressing a defined inability to do something), or a proactive one (trying something new or doing something differently). In either case, the experiment is tied to real mission needs.
  • Technical Focus: ACME experiments may choose to investigate a particular technical or procedural area, such as the exchange of data in a specified format, or testing an agile systems engineering process.
  • Participants: We value diverse, cross-functional, and cross-organizational participation.
  • Duration: ACME events—known as spirals—typically range from one to five days, sometimes held on a recurring basis over weeks or months. Single-day events often focus on brainstorming, while longer events may include a mix of brainstorming and prototyping.
  • Assets: ACME has dedicated facilities on MITRE's Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va., campuses, as well as at our sites in Tampa, Fla., Quantico, Va., Norfolk, Va., and Hanscom AFB, Mass. Once in the lab, resources range from the physical to the virtual, from the temporary to the persistent. The labs are networked together and connected via videoteleconference to support live collaboration.
  • Brainstorming and Execution: For many spirals, a brainstorming session in advance fosters better collaboration and prototype development. As the spiral execution unfolds in the Lab, ACME facilitators use video, audio, and use other multimedia products that capture the activities. Typically, there is a capstone demonstration or readout on the last day, to which senior stakeholders are invited. Similarly, participants provide a brief "after-action report" to describe their experiences and products, which is incorporated into an overall spiral report.

Whatever the challenge, the ACME Lab can be a valuable incubator—the first stage in an experimentation pipeline. While the goal is to produce new capabilities, the lab has also produced interesting results that have led to the need for deeper experimentation.

—by Cheryl B. Scaparrotta


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