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Navy turns to Sailors and innovation to find solutions for the fleet

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NORFOLK, Va. – The Navy is turning to its most valuable asset to help solve some of the most pressing issues in the fleet.

The Innovation Lab, better known as the iLab, is giving Sailors the opportunity to take ideas on how things can be done more effectively and possibly turn them into reality.

Since 2016, the iLab has been located at the Naval Submarine Training Center Pacific and is packed with virtual and augmented reality technology.

"We believe that [for] many of problems that Sailors are experiencing right now, there are solutions," said Lt. Cmdr. Chris Keithley, iLab's military advisor. "Unfortunately, they're nascent inside of the Sailors' heads, and getting to the point of actually developing a prototype and testing that idea is rather difficult. What we do here is try to take in these ideas, show it to our staff here at [Submarine Force Pacific], and propose how we can proceed forward with it."

The iLab includes a virtual map for the undersea environment, a 3D display that allows users to use a special pen to practice maintenance on equipment used on ships, and a system that virtually places users in aircraft, ships, or submarines using holographs.

"We've had about 550 Sailors through the iLab in its first nine months of operations," said Chris Bretz, iLab's team lead. "We got about 70 or 80 ideas, [and] the staff has reviewed and picked half a dozen to focus on and build out as prototypes. The mission of the lab is exactly that; capture ideas from the Sailors [to fix] their problems that they see in ship's operations, training and maintenance, and apply cutting-edge technology to make it better, faster, cheaper and more effective."

One prototype that is being tested is an unmanned aerial vehicle can track Sailors who accidently fall into the ocean while out to sea.

The Sailors at the iLab have high hopes of implementing the ideas developed into the fleet, and see value in using augmented and virtual reality for training purposes.