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NSF Convergence Accelerator 2022 Joint NSF/DOD Phases 1 and 2 for Track G: Securely Operating Through 5G Infrastructure
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.
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.
- Letter of Intent Deadline Date: Feb. 16, 2022 (required for Phase I Full Proposals only)
- Full Proposal Deadline Date: April 12, 2022 (Phase I Full Proposals)
Proposals may only be submitted by the following:
- Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) - Two- and four-year IHEs (including community colleges) accredited in, and having a campus located in the US, acting on behalf of their faculty members. Special Instructions for International Branch Campuses of US IHEs: If the proposal includes funding to be provided to an international branch campus of a US institution of higher education (including through use of subawards and consultant arrangements), the proposer must explain the benefit(s) to the project of performance at the international branch campus, and justify why the project activities cannot be performed at the US campus.
- Non-profit, non-academic organizations: Independent museums, observatories, research labs, professional societies and similar organizations in the U.S. associated with educational or research activities.
- For-profit organizations: U.S. commercial organizations, especially small businesses with strong capabilities in scientific or engineering research or education.
The PI and any co-PIs must hold an appointment at an organization that is eligible to submit as described under "Who May Submit Proposals." At least one PI or co-PI from a Phase 1 award must be included as a PI or co-PI on a Phase 2 proposal based on that Phase 1 award. The same individual who served as PI for the Phase 1 award does not have to be PI for the Phase 2 proposal. Any change of PI and co-PI should be fully explained in the proposal.
An individual may serve as PI or co-PI on no more than two Phase 1 proposals. Submissions to the BAA are included in this number.
Anticipated funding for FY2022 is $12,500,000, pending availability of funds, to support Phase 1 awards in FY 2022. Proposers may request up to $750,000 for Phase 1.
Phase 2 awards will be made in FY2023. The estimated funding level depends on the availability of funds and the number of Phase 1 awards. Phase 2 proposals may request up to $3,000,000 for year 1 and up to $5,000,000 in total for the 24-month Phase 2 project.