Authors: Jan Lewis, Project Scientist, and Jim Vrabel, Contractor, InnoVision Industry Outreach Office, NGA
What is a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement? A CRADA is a formal agreement with an industry or academic partner to bring innovative solutions to National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency’s most complex research and development problems. NGA and the partner contribute expertise, data and/or technology to the CRADA effort, and both partners benefit from the collaboration.
InnoVision’s Industry Outreach Division manages the NGA CRADA program, as well as NGA’s partnership with In-Q-Tel and the Small Business Innovation Research program. “The three programs offer diverse partnership opportunities for industry and academia to work with NGA,” said Paul Nagele, deputy division chief.
“A significant difference between the programs is that CRADAs do not involve traditional contractual relationships; in fact, NGA is prohibited from contributing funds to a CRADA partner.”
Why would a commercial enterprise, university or research lab agree to work with NGA without receiving funds? Partners can benefit from access to government-developed algorithms and scientific research and gain insights into NGA challenges through their side-by-side work with NGA employees. This interaction may enable collaborators to create a better geospatial production tool, sensor and/or database, which they can then make commercially available to their customers.
Congress passed legislation under the Federal Technology Transfer Act of 1986 (P.L. 99-502) that introduced CRADAs as a mechanism to increase federal laboratories’ interaction with industry. The ultimate goal of the legislation was to enhance U.S. competitiveness by encouraging the transfer of technology between the U.S. government and the private sector.
NGA’s CRADA projects range widely across NGA’s mission areas, including everything from geospatial education to improving business processes to scientific research into emerging phenomenologies. Current research areas include: image exploitation, geospatial technologies, geospatial training, object-oriented technologies, multi-intelligence and/or multi-source processing and exploitation, advanced sensor research and development and enhancements to both electronic navigation technology and aeronautical data holdings.
CRADA projects involving Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology are an example of successful technology transfer and mutual cooperation between NGA and industry partners.
LIDAR, an optical remote sensing technology, is relatively new to NGA. Laser pulses bounce off objects to detect their properties and can measure distances to them, outline their shape and determine other object properties by illuminating a target with light.
NGA is working with CRADA partners Applied Imagery, Exelis Visual Information Solutions and Overwatch, leveraging their CRADAs to make several NGA-developed LIDAR tools available to the National System for Geospatial Intelligence, which includes intelligence community, jointstaff, military departments, services and combatant commands, to advance understanding of this technology.
NGA transferred government Tactical Decision Aid algorithms, which help analysts and users of geospatial tactical information, to these CRADA partners. The partners in turn agreed to incorporate the algorithms into their commercial-off-the-shelf analysis tools and provide operations and maintenance support for them. Transferred TDAs include helicopter landing zone algorithms designed to help identify acceptable helicopter landing locations and line-of-sight algorithms used for 3-D LIDAR analysis of a location’s tactical environment.
CRADA partnership agreements are increasingly important to NGA’s research and development efforts because they allow exploration of cutting-edge technology that might not otherwise be possible in an era of tightening federal budgets. NGA’s CRADA program reached the significant milestone of 25 active CRADAs in March, with several
others in development.
“While the InnoVision CRADA team manages the CRADA program for NGA, personnel from many directorates are essential to program success, serving as principal investigators and subject matter experts,” said Michael O’Brien, NGA CRADA program director.
Editor's note: This article was reprinted with permission from the NGA and originally appeared in the July-August issue of the agency's Pathfinder Magazine.