When Bob Kocher sees a need, he’s inspired to invent.
A serial marathon runner, he came up with NipGuards, a product meant to protect nipples from chafing while running.
As he saw that soldiers in Afghanistan — well protected by body armor on their torso — were more vulnerable to injuries to their extremities and groin, he and his Arlington-based company Secure Planet came up with Shrapnel Shorts, specifically designed to protect the groin region. The Army is now set to buy 75,000 pairs.
Kocher formerly worked as a project manager at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, specifically focusing on body armor.
He left DARPA in 1997 and soon after founded Ideal Innovations, a company focused on coming up with new ideas and ways to manage problems. The services-based business found traction in areas such as biometrics, Kocher said, and grew to 300 employees by 2010.
About a year and a half ago, Kocher, who already had 12 patents to his name, started the products-focused Secure Planet, which has its headquarters in the same Ballston office as Ideal Innovations.
He brought on David E. Simon as chief operating officer and chief scientist. Simon designed Shrapnel Shorts, a boxer brief made in part with Kevlar protective fabric. The shorts also have pockets on the thighs for removable ballistic inserts.
The ballistic inserts are inspired by the way football players wear their pads, said Simon. The company went through multiple iterations — Simon and Kocher themselves tested them while in Afghanistan — to make the boxers both comfortable and protective.
Last month, the company said it received a contract from the Army’s soldier protective equipment product manager for 75,000 pairs of the shorts, which Secure Planet is set to deliver by fall.
Simon said Secure Planet is already seeking new opportunities. Last week, it submitted a proposal to make a variant of Shrapnel Shorts for the Marine Corps. As part of that proposal, the company included a variant of the shorts designed specifically for women, he added.
Secure Planet has a number of other products it would like to sell to the military. The company has come up with “low-profile” body armor that people can wear largely undetected. Kocher said noticeable body armor can at times make people into targets — by suggesting they are important and require protection — or intimidate civilians.
Additionally, the company is developing body armor that can protect soldiers’ extremities.
“To be an inventor,” said Kocher, “you find a problem ... and then you want to solve it.”