The Weather Rock didn’t miss a beat in more than a year of Colorado extremes — 100-plus summers, sub-freezing winters, rain, snow.
“It worked great for a year, then it got hit by a car,” said Brandon Tripp, COO of XplotraX, which has the Weather Rock prototype and patent. “It was over by the airport at the Space and Missile Defense Battle Lab, where we tested it for the Army, and someone backed into it. … We just had to replace the battery — it was fine.”
But cars aren’t a hazard in most of the places the XplotraX team expects the Weather Rock to be used.
The satellite-enabled, solar-powered independent weather station can send and receive weather data and messages anywhere in the world — and from everywhere you don’t want to be.
“You could essentially take this into the middle of sub-Saharan Africa, drop it there, walk away and leave it,” Tripp said. “Unless it breaks it will last forever, or until the battery dies.”
Designed for austere conditions, the Weather Rock works in “places where you don’t want to send people. You’re saving manpower and it can just operate autonomously,” he said.
It’s also bluetooth-enabled, so the user can connect bluetooth devices to it and add more sensors as needed.
Tripp lists military applications for remote areas, landing zones, runways, drop zones, tactical uses.
“It also has a ton of commercial applications: You could do disaster relief, you could do oil and gas, agriculture — all kinds of things,” he said.
Military propels innovation
XplotraX is among a growing number of Colorado Springs startups whose technological innovations have been inspired and propelled by the city’s concentration of military installations and Department of Defense government contractors.
The Weather Rock concept emerged during Tripp’s time building prototypes at the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Battle Lab.
“The idea went as far as it could at the Battle Laboratory and then the idea came over to TMC Design, our parent company, and they took it over,” he said. “Now they’re spinning it out as a commercial company, XplotraX, and I’m the COO. I’m in charge of marketing and doing business analysis, business cases.”
XplotraX is now part of the inaugural cohort at Catalyst Accelerator, a defense and national security accelerator based at Catalyst Campus, which aims to promote technology advancement and guide tech transfer between the government and the commercial market.
Erin Miller, managing director at the Center for Technology, Research and Commercialization, said the DoD and military ecosystem in Colorado Springs enhances economic development.
“At C-TRAC we are seeing the Air Force embrace innovation at unprecedented speeds through partnership with AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate and Air Force CyberWorx,” she said. “These programs encourage startups, small business and commercial-facing companies to learn about warfighter needs while developing their commercial products. The result is higher probability that new market shaping companies emerge with sales to DoD as well as sales to commercial.”
Air Force CyberWorx is a “public-private design center focused on cyber capability that melds [Air Force], academic and industry expertise with … technology and innovative thinking to solve wicked operational problems,” according to its website.
CyberWorx became fully operational a year ago, and one of its first design sprints inspired a commercial product based on the sprint discussions — a next-generation cyber training platform called Cyber Mission Force One, built by Springs-based Rim Technologies.
RIMTECH CEO Sara Kinney said Cyber Mission Force One has grown, attracting interest from intelligence community customers as well as Air Force mission teams. The company expects to further build out the platform through additional development sprints this year.
“We’re obviously trying to align with what the government customer might need, that we learned from that design sprint — but also look forward to what we imagine cyber training can be,” Kinney said. “That’s very exciting for such a small company and it’s really been possible because we’re in Colorado Springs, a community that partners well.”
Colorado Springs’ five military installations average a total of 500-600 active duty service members separating from the military each month, and about 75 percent of them want to stay in Colorado Springs, according to Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC Director of Cybersecurity Programs Vinnie Persichetti, who is leading work on the Regional Cybersecurity Strategic Plan.
Tripp is one of them.
“The military brought me here and we absolutely loved it,” he said. A California native, Tripp was a Green Beret until he was injured in combat and became a disabled veteran.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in IT during his service, and as a veteran he used the GI Bill to get his MBA while working at the Space and Missile Defense Battle Lab.
Tripp’s military background means he can speak the same language as military tactical weather operators, and understand how to thoroughly test the prototype.
“I can really relate to them on the ground level and say, ‘OK, what do you truly need?’ And that’s one of the reasons we chose a commercial sensor that has no moving parts,” he explained. “A lot of weather sensors have the little spinning thing that measures the wind speed. … We use ultrasonic for wind speed and direction, because things break on the battlefield and the less moving parts you can have, the better.”
The critical element of XplotraX’s technology is the patented circuitry behind it, which allows Weather Rock to operate as an autonomous weather station.
But, Tripp said, it can be so much more.
“One fascinating thing is that we had Special Ops, some of my buddies, say, ‘We’re going to Africa. You’ve got this device that has GPS tracking on it, bluetooth connectivity and it can operate anywhere in the world — can we turn this into a tracker?’ And we did,” Tripp said. “We turned it into a remote low-profile tactical tracking device that can connect to your phone and has an app on it. So you can text message and track people anywhere in the world.”
Tracking planes in near-real-time
There are countless applications for the “brain” of the Weather Rock that “go way beyond just weather,” Tripp said. The device can send any kind of data.
“It’s a weather station right now, but it’s also a tactical tracking device. It can be used in the transportation industry, it could be used in airplanes,” he said. “Right now, our airplanes are not tracked with satellite communications — they’re radar. That’s how Malaysia [Airlines] Flight 370 was lost in the ocean. They didn’t know where it was because it wasn’t [tracked] by radar. Had you had one of our tracking devices on it, you’d know exactly where it went down, where it deviated. … If you were to put one of these on each [aircraft] — and they’re not expensive — then you can track every single plane in the world in near-real-time.”
The Weather Rock was developed initially to meet Air Force requirements for weather applications, then Special Ops requirements for the tracking system. Now XplotraX is using the 12-week Catalyst Accelerator program to determine its target market, develop a business plan, do cost modeling, identify market segments and connect with the military.
“Being in Colorado Springs right now means access to multiple Air Force programs that give companies insight into military customer needs,” Miller said. “C-TRAC partners with Catalyst Campus, [the Small Business Development Center] and PTAC so companies can learn how to convert customer needs into doing business with the government.”