A Night for Innovation

With toy drones and gadgets, Raytheon employees go brainstorming after hours

John Stafford (left) and Steve Davidson

John Stafford (left) and Steve Davidson talk over Stafford's quad-copter at the start of Ideation Night in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. The hobby tech was used to help Raytheon employees think creatively about alternative uses for recreational technology.

The crowd gathered around Greg Piper and his high-tech bike. They peppered him with questions: What do those sensors do? What do you do with all the data? Has it improved your performance?

Piper’s “Internet of Things” bike takes his ride data – his route, his speed, his pedaling power and so on – and uploads it alongside other cyclists’ stats to create a virtual leaderboard. The two-wheeled training machine was the main attraction at Ideation Night, an after-hours brainstorming session for Raytheon employees that reflects the company’s enthusiasm for innovative thinking among its workforce of 61,000.

Nearly 40 employees found their way to Tewksbury for the first Ideation Night. The idea: to get employees talking about technology they use in their hobbies as a way to inspire ideas for the company's products and services.

“There is no such thing as a bad idea,” said Michael Blumberg, an IT chief technologist who organized the event. “The silliest of things can turn into the most amazing.”

That big-picture thinking is evident in Raytheon’s research and innovations. The company's inventions span nearly every field of science and technology, from computer chips that harness quantum physics to work on a full-scale redesign of the Internet.

Raytheon encourages employee ideas in a myriad of ways. Just a few examples: Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems formally launched an Office of Innovation in 2006, and now operates 10 Innovation Centers open to employees 24/7. In the company's facility in Sudbury, Massachusetts, "scrum masters" use a collaborative process known as the agile engineering system to quickly design huge radars for the Navy. At the Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services business, engineers use free-form "software challenges" to develop wild new applications. At the company's "Bike Shop" – named after the Wright  Brothers' bicycle shop – engineers specialize in building quick prototypes of new inventions. The corporate Future Tech team, a co-sponsor and promoter of Ideation Night, was established to seek new technology tools for use in communications functions.

When the Ideation Night crowd saw Piper’s bike, they started thinking about how mobile sensors could prove useful to Raytheon’s customers.

Talk about Piper’s bike spilled over into discussion about other areas of innovation – big data, nanotechnology, sensors that show where a user is looking, and speakers that can direct a beam of sound to just one person in a room.

With toy drones whizzing overhead and others looking through Blumberg’s high-powered telescope, Blumberg said that kind of collaboration is at the heart of Raytheon's business.

"At the end of the day, innovation is the most successful when we collaborate," Blumberg said.

Published On: 07/20/2015
Last Updated: 12/11/2017