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Army Launches App Development Contest

Categories include mobile, warfighting, and data-driven apps. Developers may work in the military's private cloud computing platform.

The U.S. Army on Monday launched an internal Web application development contest, Apps for the Army, that will award cash prizes to soldiers and Army civilian employees who develop software that best fits the judgment criteria of the contest.

The contest, announced at the Gov 2.0 Summit in November 2009, aims to encourage collaborative, grassroots development efforts and will take place over the next two and a half months. “We’re building a culture of collaboration among our Army community to encourage smarter, better, and faster technical solutions to meet operational needs,” Army CIO Jeff Sorenson said in a statement.

The effort echoes earlier crowdsourcing efforts such as Apps for Democracy in Washington, D.C. Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, who was CTO of Washington, D.C. at the time that program was introduced, has expressed interest in creating a similar platform for citizen-developed applications that make use of government data.

Submissions to Apps for the Army will be judged on six criteria: usefulness to warfighters or business users; intuitive usability; appeal over current or past approaches to executing the same tasks; inventiveness; likelihood to have an effect on missions; and viability.

Those who want to participate in the effort (Army log-in required) will have to act fast: enrollment is limited to the first 100 Army personnel. Forty winning submissions will be awarded from a pool of $30,000 in prize money and will be recognized at a major Army IT conference later this year. The Army plans to use at least some of the winning apps, dependent on how well they meet security requirements.

The Army is looking for applications that "tackle any aspect of Army IT," and prizes will be awarded in multiple categories, including data-driven applications, warfighting applications, mission-specific applications, location-aware mobile applications, training and education apps, "morale/welfare/recreation" apps, personnel and career management apps, and the catch-all "other" category.

Developers won't have to use their own development environment in creating their applications if they don't want to; the Department of Defense is providing the Defense Information Systems Agency's private cloud, the Rapid Access Computing Environment, for free. Giving applicants access to RACE, Sorenson said, will also eliminate hardware provisioning challenges so that the applications can be more readily tested.

Participants will be able to write Web applications in any programming language supported by Windows Server and LAMP frameworks, and can build emulated mobile applications for Blackberrys, iPhones, and Android devices. They can also submit multiple applications, and will receive feedback if they submit early.

The Army will also let teams collaborating on the software using as a repository for open source code to use in their projects.

In a related story, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency Monday issued a request for information called Mobile Apps for the Military, which invites developers to submit whitepapers that will be used by DARPA to identify current iPhone and Android apps that are potentially suitable for widespread use by the military.

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