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Yesterday’s technology, today’s advantage

How AD&D Inc. successfully modified Cold War technology for the needs of today

By Wendy Bautista

With a motto stating, “Success measured by solutions,” you know Gary Donoher, president of Analysis, Design & Diagnostics Inc. (AD&D Inc., www.adndinc.com) sets his reputation on the line and expects to succeed—and he and his team work hard to make it happen.

“We measure our success by the solutions we bring to our customers,” says Donoher, whose customers include defense and commercial industries, such as the U.S. Navy, the oil and gas industry, and port authorities.

With these customers, come unique needs. Since AD&D is a solution-oriented company with a unique knowledge of undersea acoustics in complex marine environments, they make solutions happen by hiring only those with real world experience—with many employees being former Navy acousticians.

Days of yesteryear

“When we first started out in 1992 it was during the height of the Cold War,” says Donoher. “In those days, we basically supplied onsite support and provided mission reconstruction and data analysis—and during the height it was a good business to be in.”

Acoustics during the Cold War generally meant listening for enemy submarines and communications. “As the Cold War started winding down, however, we saw the writing on the wall and said we’ve got to be able to do other things.”

That was when he started looking into what else he could do. “One thing we’ve always done as a company for the Navy was act as an independent agent for them so companies like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, USSI and others would develop technology and the Navy would have us evaluate it,” says Donoher.

It was during those evaluations that they discovered they knew more about the Navy’s problems and probably had the solutions than the companies who were developing the technology. That was when they started moving into the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program, a highly competitive program that encourages domestic small businesses to engage in Federal Research/Research and Development (R/R&D) that has the potential for commercialization.

Getting innovative

Under the SBIR/STTR program, the Navy issues solicitations four times a year where it identifies a problem it has and then a company writes a response to that problem on how it can solve it. The Navy then evaluates all proposals, and based on your technological proposal, may give you a Phase I award.

According to SBIR, the objective of Phase I is to establish the technical merit, feasibility, and commercial potential of the proposed R/R&D efforts and to determine the quality of performance of the small business awardee organization prior to providing further Federal support in Phase II. SBIR Phase I awards normally do not exceed $150,000 total costs for 9 months.

The objective of Phase II is to continue the R/R&D efforts initiated in Phase I. Funding is based on the results achieved in Phase I and the scientific and technical merit and commercial potential of the project proposed in Phase II. Only Phase I awardees are eligible for a Phase II award. SBIR Phase II awards normally do not exceed $1,000,000 total costs for two years.

The objective of Phase III, where appropriate, is for the small business to pursue commercialization objectives resulting from the Phase I/II R/R&D activities. The SBIR program does not fund Phase III. Phase III may involve follow-on non-SBIR funded R&D or production contracts for products, processes or services intended for use by the U.S. Government.

“If you go to Phase III, it could be up to a $25 million contract where you could now be on every platform out there,” says Donoher.

Finding a solution

“One of the biggest problems the Navy has faced in recent years was being accused of harming and killing whales and dolphins with its active SONAR during exercises,” says Donoher.

In fact, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) brought a lawsuit against the Navy in 2008 stating the active SONAR poses a deadly threat to whales and other marine mammals. The case went to the Supreme Court, which sided with the Navy—but as part of the settlement, the Navy agreed to do a better job about not harming the animals and to do the best it can to be aware of where they are. They want to be able to take action if they get too close and be able to turn SONAR off or to maneuver around. “If there are whales in front of them, they want to know how to avoid them,” says Donoher.

This opened up many opportunities for AD&D.

“We use an acoustic intercept system which accepts all acoustic noise,” says Mike Jackson, the COO of AD&D. “We kind of knew from the word ‘go’ that yeah you want a marine mammal detection mitigation system and there are things to do with that, but we all knew and understood from our backgrounds that the core of this was what we dealt with for years [in the Navy]. We just need to adapt it to whatever it needs to be adapted to—adding function to what already exists.”

From years of listening for enemies and such underwater, they also knew the sounds of a biological being. So what was of no importance in their Navy days has turned into their competitive advantage.

The successes

•MMDM: AD&D’s Marine Mammal Detection Mitigation (MMDM) program is an automated system that passively detects and automatically classifies marine mammal vocalizations prior to the activation of active sonar systems for the Navy.

“We’ve developed this technology from a Phase I through a Phase III STTR program, with Duke University Marine Laboratory and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution working with us as support contractors,” says Donoher. “This system is on a couple of ships right now and has been at sea and tested and evaluated.”

According to Donoher, the Navy’s P-3 Orion community had a similar problem and AD&D responded to its solicitation with a multichannel system.

“When we first started, we used to classify by saying it’s a marine mammal or SONAR, but we can classify now to a certain species and say if it’s a sperm whale or a North Atlantic right whale,” says Donoher.

The system automatically classifies it, has it show up on a classification display with the points of where the signals were captured and allows the operator to play it back if necessary. “Because the Navy is now looking to reduce manpower levels, we are trying to automate this process 100% to where an operator doesn’t need to be involved,” says Donoher.

Under that same program, AD&D developed a sensor that gets anchored to the ocean bottom and floats about 6 feet to 8 feet off the ocean floor, where it can record data 24 hours a day, seven days a week on an SD card that is integrated into the acoustic modem.

“A file that has approximately 1.5 man years of data—2,772 hours—would take an acoustic analyst 1.5 years to get through, but with our processors with a much higher data rate we are able to get through that data in a short amount of time because of the automation,” says Donoher. “In a two hour file, we can process eight hours of data. We are currently modifying our technology to run at higher data rates.”

•MADPT PS: The Marine Assessment, Decision and Planning Tool for Protected Species (MADPT PS) is a software-based tool for use by environmental and operational mission planners to decrease interactions with protected marine species and assess impact prior to and after exercises.

“Any time the Navy does an active SONAR exercise or training they have to log all of their active SONAR missions and any mammal sightings,” says Donoher. “The sighting info is required any time they do any major exercise, but the sonar is required every day. When a Navy ship turns on its SONAR, they have to log every active emission and report it, and that goes into a central database.”

AD&D has developed two systems to help. One is the Automated-SONAR Positional ReportingSystem (A-SPORTS), which taps into the ship’s network and automatically extracts every time the SONAR pings as well as the latitude and longitude of the ship and all of the pertinent information required; and the other is the Automatic Logging Reporting System (ALRS), which is a handheld device for reporting sightings of marine mammals

Donoher is hopeful these systems will be next to go to Phase III.

Moving forward

“Our goal is to continue to improve that technology (spiral development) so as it goes on board the platforms or is developed, we continue to make improvements,” says Donoher.

“Eventually you come out of the ‘phase’ program, and that’s really the goal,” adds Jackson. “To get it to the point of where they say, ‘Yes, I need to get this in and get this into the budget and we’re going to get it into the program of record.’ Then it just becomes that it was an SBIR program and now it’s a program of record, and you stay in the spiral development for as long as they need to use it and need support for it.”

“We found out that it’s the hardest part,” says Donoher. “What we’ve seen in the past is some sponsors are remiss and slow about getting the funding in place, so we’re trying to get better at working with our program sponsors to start that transition process sooner in the phase process.”

Success is in the staff

Donoher says one of the things he always tried to do as a company was never be a “body shop.”

“We just haven’t gone after contract work just to get contract work because that can only last a couple of years and then all of a sudden you’re laying people off,” says Donoher. “When we bring people on, we want to be able to offer them long-term employment, good benefits, keep them around for a while, and have a good core group of folks. Not have the body shop mentality that a lot of companies out there seem to have.”

So how can a company with 10 people do so well? Be up to the challenges, says Donoher.

“The problem with being a small company is that contracting officers are  more likely to give a contract to a company like Lockheed Martin because if they fail they can say, ‘Well, I gave it to Lockheed—a well-known company in the industry,’” says Donoher. “But if they give it to us and we fail, they are going to get blamed and asked, ‘Why did you give it to that small company?’

“So one challenge is to really show that we can do the same type of work these big companies can,” says Donoher. “That’s a challenge we face every day—but we’re up to the challenge. We love it and are ready to take it on!”

Wendy Bautista is the editor of Advantage Small Business Magazine. She can be reached at Wendy@advantagebizmag.com or 904-536-2234.

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Business vitals

Owner: Gary Donoher

In business since: 1992

Projected growth: “We are going to continue to develop technology and try to work with integrators to get our technology into other platforms. Our technology has other applications that can be spun off for many other things.

“Anything that vocalizes, we can track. We are currently working to alter our acoustic detection and classification technology to fulfill an Air Force SBIR request for detecting and classifying desert animals. We have a proposal in to take our technology and modify it to their needs, and use our folks to process the data.

“We are also developing a handheld device for Navy divers that will alert them to the presence of ships or active SONARS and create situational awareness, and we just had a kickoff for a program with John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory working with the Navy’s unmanned undersea vehicles, which could basically replace the submarine fleet,” says Donoher.

“What they need is a lightweight navigation system to navigate those platforms because they can’t surface to get a GPS position and don’t know how fast they are going or if they are drifting. We are building a system that pings at a high frequency and we’re getting the reflections and measuring the vectors and then passing that information along to John Hopkins. They will then develop an algorithm that measures the drift of the vessel as it goes through the water and also measure its speed.

“I was also on phone with Fleet Forces Command and it wants 20 of our A-SPORTS handheld devices with some in Hawaii, San Diego, Jacksonville and Norfolk, and then they will issue them to the ships.

“Now our job will be to make modifications based on their requirements and to put together a training program. Every now and then we will have to show how to use the system and qualify people to use it.”

How you can do it

“It always takes perseverance and hard work,” says Donoher. “Because I had been in the field, I kind of understood a little bit about the contracting perspective but not very much because I worked primarily on the technical side. So I spent a lot of time learning how the system works and still do on a daily basis—it’s a learning process.”

“I’m not sure I can say we would be where we are today without doing the SBIR/STTR program,” says Jackson.

“Even though it has pretty clear-cut guidelines, it is still trial and error for some SBIR/STTR bids,” says Donoher.

“It takes a lot of patience and time,” says Jackson. “You also have to let some of these other people or program sponsors that may not know you or your work , get to know you. “

“Yes, it takes a lot of developing personal relationships and branding, and in the last two years I’ve spent more time in Washington, D.C. than I ever have,” says Donoher. “It is getting up there in front of folks and talking about and showing them our technology. Some say they can do it, but I take a laptop running our technology with me to show what we can do.”


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