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RAMP Alumni to Pitch Minesweeping Solutions at NATO

RAMP Alumni to Pitch Minesweeping Solutions at NATO

Posted on: June 5, 2024

A collaborative team of RAMP alumni have been selected as a finalist for the ACT NATO Innovation Challenge. The team, Virginia Uncrewed Systems, is spearheaded by Mickey Cowden, president of Cowden Technologies, Inc. He is joined by Josh May and Whitt Milne CEO and COO respectively of Autonomous Flight Technologies Inc. Cowden is a 2021 RAMP alum while May completed the program in 2017. Milne joined Autonomous Flight Technologies following RAMP graduation.

“Collaboration and innovation: that’s what being part of the innovation ecosystem is all about. Our alumni are impacting the world through their work. It’s not an overstatement. This tremendous achievement by Mickey, Josh, and Whitt is the perfect example of how the technology being developed in the region is directly contributing to solutions that change—and save—lives,” said RAMP director John Hagy.

Though they completed the RAMP program a few years apart, Cowden, May, and Milne remained an active part of the regional innovation ecosystem following graduation. They were introduced by then-RAMP director Mary Miller and that introduction kicked off a fruitful partnership. 

The NATO Innovation Challenge was created in 2017 with the goal to gather the best minds devise solutions to NATO and national operational problems in an innovative and cost-effective manner. There are two iterations of the challenge each year, each with a unique problem set. This year NATO called for solutions that address the threats posted by explosive-contaminated areas. 

In response, the Virginia Uncrewed Systems developed a proposal for Minesweeper on the Edge, a semi-autonomous drone system designed to detect mines and ensure safe passage through minefields. This system features a GPU-accelerated onboard computer and an integrated sensor array. It processes the collected data through a vision transformer model to identify and geotag mine locations. The information is then transmitted to the user’s heads-up display (HUD) or another augmented reality (AR) device, displaying marked mine locations and providing a real-time, dynamically updated optimized route as new mines are detected.

“My RAMP experience has directly impacted how I’m approaching this pitch. First, thanks to RAMP, I know how to put a pitch together. Second, I have experience with the process of iteratively refining a pitch given feedback. Third, I’m planning on trying out the pitch to some RAMP folks to get their feedback about this particular presentation. I’m extremely thankful for my previous and continued RAMP experiences,” said Cowden.

The team beat out individuals, academia, and companies from around the globe to earn one of 11 finalist spotsin NATO’s annual Innovation Challenge. They will present their pitch on June 12 in Vilnius, Lithuania.  

Reflecting on the opportunity, Cowden said, “As an entrepreneur there are wins and losses, and it can feel like mostly losses. It’s always encouraging to get a win, and being part of this challenge feels like it might be one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. While I definitely would love for our team to win the competition, it already feels like a win.”