Dover Air Force Base opens new innovation center

DOVER — Leaning in on a culture of imaginative solutions, the Dover has opened Bedrock, a new innovation lab and collaborative workspace for those on base.

The base cut the ribbon on a 5,000-square-foot lab space outfitted with virtual reality classrooms, work stations, a podcast studio and a prototyping lab with 3D printers at the end of September. The space is designed to empower airmen to develop ideas to support the warfighter at home or abroad through collaboration, regardless of rank.

Already members of Bedrock have used its equipment for good use. Airmen launched a podcast that takes a look at Air life and used 3D printers to make face shields in the early days of the pandemic. Touch-free door handles are another innovation that came from the lab and can be seen around the base.

“The future of air power relies on a culture of innovation, [and] our airmen are incredibly talented and relentlessly creative,” DAFB Commander Col. Matthew Jones said in a prepared statement. “Bedrock gives these airmen both the permission and the place to think differently, fail forward and collaborate across organizations – all in an environment where the best ideas prevail over the rank you hold.”

Bedrock was first chartered in 2019, making Dover one of 40 bases in the Air Force with an innovation lab at the time. It was inspired by the first hub at the Travis Air Force Base in California.

The name “Bedrock” was chosen to represent that forward thinking that was the foundation of the culture of the Dover AFB. Capt. Ryan Nichol, the DAFB chief innovation officer, said that the spark is spreading throughout the Air Force as innovation labs become more common,

“What makes Dover's really unique is the co-working area that we have,” Nichol said. “Collaboration is key to innovation, so we have a place where airmen from different Air Force specialty codes can come work on ideas together. With having two aircraft at Dover, C-17s and C-5s, there may be a solution that betters the maintenance for both of those aircraft.”

Members of the base can submit ideas to the lab for consideration. One of its celebrated successes was for the main traffic gate, which would have been contracted out at $123,000. The innovation lab came up with a solution at $3,000, saving taxpayers thousands in the process.

Bedrock is a “depository” for ideas that come through every direction, be it the outside world or airmen in their unit, Nichol said. Part of the innovation lab's appeal is being able to take those ideas in one central place instead of sending them out to different Air Force career fields.

“What Bedrock is really all about is a flat organizational structure,” Nichol said in a press statement. “We operate within a bureaucracy, but Bedrock is a one-stop shop where we're actually combining with our process improvement folks … We reduce redundant efforts and streamline the work within our innovation ecosystem across bases.”

Bedrock has also established partnerships with University of Delaware's Horn Entrepreneurship, and the Delaware Department of Technology and Information. The hope is to translate these partnerships into further civil-military collaboration, which the DAFB finds pivotal to ensure an environment to drive economic development.

“We're really excited to start tackling projects and innovating to improve our Air Force and airmen's life and to maintain our competitive edge,” Nichol said.

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