The National Science Foundation (NSF) Convergence Accelerator program addresses national-scale societal challenges through use-inspired convergence research. Using a convergence approach and innovation processes like human-centered design, user discovery, and team science and integration of multidisciplinary research, the Convergence Accelerator program seeks to transition basic research and discovery into practice—to solve high-impact societal challenges aligned with specific research themes (tracks).
NSF Convergence Accelerator tracks are chosen in concordance with the themes identified during the program’s ideation process that have the potential for significant national impact. The NSF Convergence Accelerator implements a two-phase program. Both phases are described in this solicitation and are covered by this single solicitation and corresponding Broad Agency Announcement. The link to the Broad Agency Announcement can be found here. The purpose of this parallel activity is to provide increased opportunities for proposals that are led by non‑academic entities. Proposals that are led by Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs), non-profits, independent museums, observatories, research labs, professional societies and similar organizations should respond to this solicitation. Proposals led by for‑profit or similar organizations should respond to the BAA. Phase 1 awardees receive resources to further develop their convergence research ideas and to identify important partnerships and resources to accelerate their projects. Phase 2 awardees receive significant resources leading to deliverable research prototypes and sustainability plans.
This solicitation is conducted in collaboration with the Department of Defense (DOD) Office of the Under Secretary of Defense – Research and Engineering (OUSD(R&E)) 5G Initiative and the Army Research Laboratory (ARL). For this track, DOD OUSD(R&E) is partnering with NSF to develop joint strategic interests that simultaneously address convergence research and serve mission needs of the 5G to NextG Initiative. DOD OUSD(R&E) will participate in reviewing reports and deliverables, participate in Principal Investigator (PI) meetings and the innovation curriculum, and work with NSF on transitioning results into practice.
This solicitation for FY 2022 invites proposals for the following Track Topic:
Securely Operating Through 5G Infrastructure (Track G)
The overall objective of Track G is to provide military, government, and critical infrastructure operators with the ability to securely operate through fifth-generation (5G) wireless communications infrastructures. It is common for the military to operate through other infrastructures such as the transportation infrastructure.
5G wireless communications technologies currently in development promise orders of magnitude improvements in multiple areas, including speed, connectivity, and reduced latency. This can transform the way the military, government services, and critical infrastructure operate. 5G networks can enable moving massive amounts of data to connect distant sensors across a critical environment. This data-rich environment can fuel powerful algorithms that will allow operators to better understand, shape, and adapt to complex and contested physical and information environments. Low-latency communications can enable new generations of autonomous systems across domains. The operator will be empowered with far richer access to data at the edge. However, transformative outcomes are possible only if the 5G network can provide a level of security and resilience necessary for critical operations.
Track G seeks enhancements to end devices and/or augmentations to 5G infrastructure so that military, government, and critical infrastructure operators have the capability to operate through public 5G networks whenever possible. Leveraging existing commercial technologies and network deployments allow operators to take advantage of commercial advances in 5G technologies while potentially decreasing costs, increasing coverage, and providing added resilience to critical communication needs. Desired areas of operation span U.S., allied, and contested regions.
It must be evident how the proposed work will be integrated to achieve success of the entire track. Each proposal should include a description of how the proposed project will contribute to an integrated environment that will deliver beneficial outputs for the track. It should also be clear how the projects will convergently align with the overarching goal of each track rather than as independent projects.
Proposers are required to submit a Letter of Intent in order to submit a Phase 1 Full Proposal. The information required in the Letter of Intent is described in Section V.
Letters of Intent should identity a team with the appropriate mix of disciplinary and cross-sector expertise required to build a convergence research effort. Letters of Intent must identify one or more deliverables, how those research outputs could impact society at scale, and the team that will be formed to carry this out.
Phase 1 proposals must describe the deliverables, a research plan, and the process of team formation that will help lead to a proof-of-concept during Phase 1.
If selected, Phase 1 awards may receive funding up to $750,000 for 12 months duration, of which nine months includes intense hands-on activities, centering around the Program’s innovation curriculum (for additional details regarding the innovation curriculum refer to Section V.A.), and three months of other activities, such as participation in the NSF Convergence Accelerator Pitch Presentations and Expo.
During the nine-month intensive planning phase, teams will participate in a curriculum that will assist them in strengthening team convergence and accelerating the identified idea toward Phase 2. The curriculum provides modules on innovation processes, including human-centered design, user discovery, team science, and integration of multidisciplinary partnerships. Teams will also be provided with coaches who will support them in Phase 1 and who may continue with them into Phase 2 if the teams wish to continue with the same coach. Alternatively, the teams can request to work with a different coach.
Only awardees of Phase 1 awards under this solicitation may submit a Phase 2 proposal. Phase 2 proposals must outline a 24-month research and development plan that transitions research into practice through convergence activities, multi-sector partnerships, and collaboration with other partners and end-users.
If selected for Phase 2, teams will be expected to apply program fundamentals and innovation processes gained in Phase 1 to enhance partnerships, develop a solution prototype, and build a sustainability model to continue societal impact beyond NSF support.
Phase 2 awards may be up to $5 million for 24 months. Phase 2 proposals must clearly describe deliverables that will be produced within 24 months. The Phase 2 teams must include partnerships critical for success and end-users (e.g., industry, Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs), non-profits, government, and others), each with a specific role(s) in deliverable development and facilitating the transition of research outputs into practical uses. Successful Phase 2 proposals will be funded initially for 12 months, with a second year being provided on the basis of an assessment of performance (see below).
Each Phase 2 team’s progress will be assessed during the year through approximately four virtual and/or in-person meetings with NSF program staff. At the end of 12 months, overall progress will be evaluated based on a report and presentation that the team presents to a panel of internal and/or external reviewers. The review panel will include NSF and DOD reviewers, NSF and DOD staff, and competing teams only. Phase 2 teams that show significant progress during the first year in accordance with the agreed timetable of milestones and deliverables will receive funding for a second year. Phase 2 teams must plan on completing the effort within 24 months. No-cost extensions are not permitted except under clearly documented exceptional circumstances. Grantees must first contact the cognizant Program Officer prior to submitting a request.
The NSF Convergence Accelerator program is committed to research that derives expertise from and provides broad benefits to everyone. The program places a very strong emphasis on broadening participation by encouraging proposals from, and partnerships with, minority-serving institutions (e.g., Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges, Hispanic Serving Institutions, Alaska Native-Serving Institutions, and Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions), and other organizations.
Lara A. Campbell
Aurali E. Dade
Pradeep P. Fulay