Air Force Imaging and Sensor Trends Collide with Small Business Interests

22.02.19 03:24 AM By Jennie Hempstead

In 2013, Wired Magazine suggested that “sensors might be what help small businesses create a competitive advantage, differentiate themselves from the big guys, and lead to more valuable product offerings.” Five years later, the Air Force is taking a strong look at small businesses to provide low-cost sensor technology and engage in open architecture software solutions. And small businesses are ready to coordinate their efforts to meet the demand.

The Air Force SBIR/STTR program office managed a research budget of $407M in 2017. That budget helps companies mature their technologies through phase I and II SBIR awards, at a lower risk. In return, the Air Force stays at the forefront of the state of the art, at a reduced cost.

In order to maintain a fair playing field, small businesses often wait for a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) or Request for Proposal (RFP) before understanding what the Air Force needs from them. If companies are made aware of technology gaps earlier in the process, they have a greater chance of delivering useful R&D that will help them win a phase II award.

In order to bridge this gap, the Small Business Hub hosted the Current and Future Trends in AF Imaging and Sensor Technologies Collider on August 8, 2018 at Wright Brothers Institute’s 444 E. Second street location.

A four-person panel, comprised of technologists from the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Sensors Directorate (AFRL/RY), fielded several subjects relating to imaging and sensor technologies. 3D Holography and Targeting, Air-to-Air Applications, and Strategic and Technical ISR Applications were highlighted points of discussion. From the program management side, panelists stressed the need for Open Architecture and the need to incorporate new technology, which might be an added benefit to the sensor platforms. Upcoming SBIR topics such as low-cost sensors for smaller UAV, Predator and GlobalHawk platforms, were also addressed.

The market for sensor technology is huge. Small businesses may be able to enter the market, with less risk, through the SBIR process. Giving them the access to the technologists is a critical component to delivering the right technology, right on time. To learn more about the Small Business Hub, visit or sign up for alerts about future colliders at

This story was featured in our FY18 Q4 report. Download the report here.