TECHNOLOGY TODAY SPOKE WITH JEFF VOLLIN, PH.D. ABOUT HOW RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGY IS MANAGED AT RAYTHEON MISSILE SYSTEMS AND HIS ROLE AND RESPONSIBILITIES AS TECHNICAL DIRECTOR.
TT: WHAT IS THE BUSINESS TECHNICAL DIRECTOR (TD) AND WHAT ARE YOUR DAY-TO-DAY RESPONSIBILITIES AS A TD?
JV: While it varies a bit from business to business, at Missile Systems (MS) the TD has shared responsibilities to Corporate Headquarters and to MS. For Corporate, I interface with the Chief Technology Officer on all our advanced technology plans and strategies. I coordinate Missile Systems’ attendance at major events, such as Technology Integration week and the Principal Fellows Workshop. I also answer any questions on technology from corporate leadership and monitor the MS IRAD investments relative to the other businesses, to ensure there is the maximum amount of synergy possible between IRAD investments. For MS, I oversee the annual process of selecting strategic IRAD projects, then oversee the execution of those projects throughout the year. Our office also coordinates all Missile Systems’ university engagements whether they be Directed Research, Research Memberships, or just university services.
TT: HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED IN TECHNOLOGY AND WHAT ARE YOUR HOBBIES?
JV: My involvement with technology started early in my career. I was involved in the design of Raytheon’s High Power Transmitters and High Power Microwave products, and I felt it was essential to understand how these devices fit into the overall strategy of Missile Systems. Not every missile contains an active RF transmitter, and I wanted to understand which ones did and why. For example, those missiles that did not carry an active transmitter, could they include one in the future, and what obstacles might prevent their adoption? This led me into a position of coordinating IRAD investments in our Electrical Systems Directorate for not only high power transmitters, but also for all MS electronic technologies. And following this, I was offered a position on the MS Technology Staff.
As far as hobbies are concerned, I enjoy amateur astronomy, amateur radio, metal working in my home machine and welding shop, and woodworking. To support my astronomy hobby, I built a deck on the roof of my house with a fiberglass dome to house the telescope. The telescope structure required both machine work and welding. I also traveled this year to the Great American Eclipse with friends that were professional Astronomers. The experience was great, especially with like-minded friends regarding events in the sky.
TT: WHAT EXCITES YOU ABOUT TECHNOLOGY AT RAYTHEON?
JV: For me, the excitement comes from the opportunity to see all the great science I learned about in my undergraduate education at CaltechTM come into reality. Much of my career was spent narrowly focused on Power Electronics, my chosen specialty for my Ph.D. Working in the Technology office has allowed me to expand my knowledge and influence far beyond electronics into such areas as propulsion; Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC); atomistic simulation; exotic materials and Artificial Intelligence. It is truly amazing to see all the technology our people can take from the imagination and make into working products. I do miss being THE expert on one topic, now relying on other experts in their domains, but the rewards of being involved in many technologies easily make up the difference.
TT: WHAT ARE SOME KEY EMERGING TECHNOLOGY AREAS AND WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?
JV: Today it is impossible to work in almost any area of technology without encountering Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). We use it not only in obvious ways such as target recognition in complex scenes, but also in some very unexpected ways such as sharpening an out-of-focus image. Some of the AI/ML technology is making a direct impact today, while some of it will need considerably more time to mature. We are creating strategic partnerships with universities such as Caltech in the area of autonomous systems. These partnerships help move our technology ahead quickly by mixing the theoretical work of a university with the practical work of
There are other key emerging technologies that I am tracking as possibly “the next big thing” in their respective fields. One is electric propellant, which is a unique combination of electricity and chemistry yielding a solid propellant that can be turned on and off, literally with the flip of a switch. When in the off position, the material will not burn energetically, providing a propellant with unprecedented safety and utility. Another emerging technology I am watching closely is Integrated Photonics. This field is just now making the transition from discrete components to complete subsystems integrated on a chip; much like electronics made the shift in the 1980s. With photonic systems, all the size, weight and power (SWAP) factors could potentially be improved by an order of magnitude or more. Commercial practice is moving quickly in this direction in the large data communications area, and our missiles use more and more high speed data all the time. There are many more emerging technology areas we are investing in, these are just a couple that may not be widely appreciated yet.
TT: HOW DOES RAYTHEON TEAM WITH UNIVERSITIES TO DEVELOP TECHNOLOGIES?
JV: We team with universities to gain access to the newest thoughts in science and technology. Many of the problems that universities deal with require extended time spent with great focus and concentration to solve. It is usually not economically practical for companies that need to make a product to spend this effort, especially when there is no guarantee of useful results. By teaming with a company like Raytheon, we can help the university to focus their thinking along practical lines, to solve real problems that the nation has. Raytheon gains from the exposure to new ideas and new ways of thinking about problems that may have been unsolvable just a few years ago.
TT: HOW DOES A PERSON GET INVOLVED IN RAYTHEON RESEARCH, TECHNOLOGY AND INNOVATION?
JV: At MS, this question has many dimensions and pathways, but they all start with an interest and a passion for what comes next. Early in my career, it became clear to me that in a competitive environment, the person who sits still quickly falls behind. Even then, the rate of technology change was so rapid that a good idea today, was common practice tomorrow. I knew I needed to be searching along multiple paths to find that next big idea. That is where it all starts, with that new idea. Once the idea has been formulated, the next step is to find a way to make that idea a reality. For that, Raytheon has many activities and programs from the basic MS Igniter crowdsourcing tool, to the more formal IDEA (Identify-Develop-Expose-Action) Program run by Technology Area Directors (TADs), and finally Independent Research and Development (IRAD) projects. There is also the MS Hackathon and Conclave, collaborative events where employees can think and innovate, sharing and building upon ideas to create solutions to real world problems. At the enterprise level, there is also the Raytheon Innovation Challenge, a terrific venue to develop ideas to solve stated challenges.
I mentioned the TADs before. These are people that take a year away from their home organization to work in advanced technology for the enterprise, in one of our key technology domains. A great way to get involved in innovation is to know the TAD associated with your area of interest, and engage with the associated Technology Network (TN). The TN provides opportunities for enterprisewide collaboration within that technology area, organizing activities for innovation such as symposia, workshops, and Technology Interest Groups. There really is something for everyone — so long as there is a passion and a good idea.