Is There an App for Arms Control?

By Joseph Marks

July 23, 2013

Arms control inspectors abroad may one day pass compliance reports back to the U.S. State and Energy departments using mobile apps, assisted by satellite images and radiation sensors.

Or maybe those sensors will do the work themselves, passing data back so well-verified that U.S. officials can monitor a nation’s compliance with arms control agreements without ever setting foot on its soil.

Those are ideas posed by the State Department’s 2013 Innovation in Arms Control Challenge, posted on the website Innocentive on Monday. The department is offering $10,000 in rewards for technologies that can help bring the U.S. arms control mission, much of which dates back to the Cold War, into the 21st century.  

State sponsored a similar challenge in 2012 aimed at aiding arms control through crowdsourcing. The first place winner of that challenge launched the blog Bombshelltoe to educate the public about nuclear issues.

The 2013 challenge will be open through October. Participants only need to submit a written proposal, not completed technology.

From the challenge posting:

Imagine a future arms control treaty where equipment used for treaty activity can talk to one another to verify their locations, or where public environmental sensors are used in combination with official treaty data to boost treaty compliance confidence, or where inspectors can inspect without physically being at a site. How could such an inspection work? Is such an inspection technically possible?

Today, we use arms control to help regulate weapons, or to increase transparency, predictability and stability in the international arena. Arms control inspections generally provide cooperative access under negotiated parameters to declared facilities to verify that activities, processes, materials and equipment at these sites are accurately reported or declared as required by a treaty or agreement. In the future, our current methods and capabilities may become obsolete or unable to alleviate concerns that evolve over time. To prepare, we would like to develop new inspection tools and processes that supplement or even replace current technical approaches dating back to the Cold War with modern methods that capture the potential of an era characterized by powerful mobile devices and easy information sharing. Solvers should explain what specific problem(s) their proposed technological solution addresses, how their proposed technological solution would enhance arms control inspections, and the utility of the proposed technology.

(Image via vician/

By Joseph Marks

July 23, 2013