What if we could tap into the collective intellect of Earth’s population — not just those within a single institution — to find novel solutions that advance science and technology? Open innovation allows just that, giving organizations and individuals from around the world the opportunity to collaborate and partner on solutions to global problems.

Through MagQuest, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) challenged innovators to identify novel approaches to geomagnetic data collection for the World Magnetic Model (WMM). The WMM is a critical piece of geomagnetic infrastructure: As Sarah Scoles wrote in WIRED, “Your ability to move about the world without getting lost actually depends on these measurements.” This past spring, NGA invited six teams to join Phase 3 of the $2.1 million global competition and refine their designs and testing plans for data collection methodologies.

When it came to the WMM, NGA wanted to think beyond the probable solutions to discover what’s possible — and that was why they settled on using open innovation to spur new ideas that would increase the efficiency, reliability, and sustainability of geomagnetic data collection.

“There is a delicate balance between using known and trusted experts with deep knowledge in the field versus having a competition that is completely open to anyone. Open innovation allows many different and innovative ideas, but takes more of a chance on teams that are less experienced. Neither approach is always right or always wrong — there is value in both, and for that reason I am impressed and excited that NGA decided to hold an open innovation effort.”
Dr. Jacob Bortnik, MagQuest subject matter expert and Professor of Space Physics, Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles

Though the open innovation competition attracted domestic and international innovators, its goal and requirement that a successful solution include sensor, platform, and data analysis elements meant that many teams had specific expertise in one or two critical areas. To better refine the proposed solutions, Phase 3 offered teams the opportunity to work with subject matter experts from academia, industry, and government with expertise in sensors, platform engineering, mission operations, program management, the World Magnetic Model, and geomagnetism. During the solver support period from April to August, the teams were able to meet one-on-one with the challenge experts to discuss Phase 3 requirements and ask questions about identified areas for improvement.

“My role as a professor fits well into being a subject matter expert for MagQuest, as it involves not only learning about new ideas, concepts, techniques, and approaches, but also learning about how best to communicate and help others approach problems.”
Dr. Mark Moldwin, MagQuest subject matter expert and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering and Applied Physics, University of Michigan

The five teams submitted their final designs and testing plans for data collection methodologies on August 12. As part of the review process, the judging panel will meet with the teams virtually on September 29 and 30 at the Phase 3 Design Review Event. The event gives the teams the opportunity to present their solutions and answer questions from the judges. NGA will announce the results of the $2.1 million global competition later this fall.

“When we launched MagQuest, we set out to get the best solutions possible — and we’ve been really impressed by the innovation shown from around the world. We’re looking forward to seeing what our teams have accomplished during Phase 3 when they present their solutions in September.”
Mike Paniccia, NGA Geodetic Earth Scientist and WMM Program Manager

Get future updates from the $2.1 million global competition: Subscribe to the MagQuest newsletter to hear the Phase 3 results and learn more about their final designs and testing plans later this fall.