WASHINGTON — The Defense Innovation Unit, a Department of Defense organization founded to help the U.S. military make faster use of emerging commercial technologies, opened a new hub in Chicago to expand its presence in the Midwest.

“Chicago is part of DIU’s broader regional strategy to extend DoD’s reach as a customer and economic development partner to companies, labs, accelerators, academia and investors across the country,” it said in as statement April 21. “In turn, DoD aims to discover emerging technology solutions faster, speed their adoption and expand the base of suppliers supporting our military.”

Established in 2015, DIU awarded 263 prototype contracts between June 2016 and September 2021, according to its 2021 Annual Report, with most going to companies in California.

Speaking during the C4ISRNET Conference on April 20, DIU Director Mike Brown said that while Silicon Valley is still “quite the center of innovation,” commercial activity is slowly shifting to other hubs.

“We want to be following that trend to make sure that we’re not too rooted in one area,” he said. “Quite honestly, the Midwest is underrepresented.”

Brown pointed to electric vehicles as one technology sector poised for growth in the Midwest, with Detroit leading the market. DIU is working with the Army on a project to retrofit large armored vehicles to a hybrid-electric configuration and two of the possible suppliers are located there, he said.

The Chicago location is DIU’s fifth office, joining Mountain View, Calif., Boston, Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C.

The Chicago office is co-located at Discovery Partners Institute, which is focused on building research and development centers of excellence and workforce preparedness. The facility also houses the National Security Innovation Network, the Army’s 75th Innovation Command and the Army Research Laboratory.

Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.