From the outside, U.S. Special Operations Command’s latest attempt to find and test the best technology for its operators looks like one more downtown storefront here.
Inside, 3-D printers and half-built drones litter the 10,000-square-foot space, which was converted from an old tattoo parlor and former telephone book factory. High stools, wood tables and flat screens give it the look of Silicon Valley. The walls, however, are adorned with pictures of commandos in 1940s North Africa and mission dossiers from the CIA’s World War II precursor, the Office of Strategic Services. During a recent visit, a young intern was working on a device that uses radar to see through walls.
This is SOFWERX — a stylized name that roughly translates to Special Operations Forces Works — a Special Operations Command (SOCOM)-funded technology incubator that opened its doors at the end of 2015.
The easy-going vibe is meant to attract people who wouldn’t ordinarily think to work with SOCOM, according to SOFWERX director Tambrien Bates. A door next to an old cafe is a lot easier to walk into with an idea than, say, a base with armed sentries and a gate, said Bates.