During GEOINT Foreword on Sunday, representatives from four Department of Defense-sponsored, University affiliated research centers (UARC) shared news from their programs with an emphasis on the GEOINT-focused initiatives led by their students and staff.
Innovation on the Edge
Pennsylvania State University’s (PSU) Applied Research Lab (ARL) introduces roughly 250-300 undergraduate students each year to the world of geospatial intelligence. Allan Sonsteby, deputy executive director of the lab, said it is the largest interdisciplinary research unit at Penn State.
“Being part of a major research university, students have access to all sorts of analytics and research tools,” Sonsteby said.
Open-source tools from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), such as data collection and analysis platforms GeoQ and MAGE, help students gain hands-on experience.
“Six times a year, our [sports] stadium becomes the third largest city in Pennsylvania. All the problems of a third largest city in Pennsylvania come with it—people don’t get along, communications fail, medical emergencies happen,” Sonsteby said.
Students apply analysis to these problems with GeoQ, creating an echo system for Penn State’s Red Cell Analytics Lab to develop tools for disaster response and situational awareness.
Sonsteby also discussed enablers catalyzing the development of new, emerging areas for GEOINT. 5G communication is fast approaching, he said, with Verizon planning a go-live date for the technology by the end of the year. ARM, which develops embedded applications and processors, expects to deliver more than 1 trillion chips for Internet of Things-connected devices in the next 20 years. SoftBank CEO Masayoshi Son predicts artificial intelligence (AI) will reach a threshold known as “the singularity”—in which AI will surpass the capacity of the human brain—within 30 years. We’ve seen exponential growth in GEOINT capabilities since Lewis and Clarke’s mapping expedition, which Sonsteby claimed is “ground zero” for the GEOINT industry.
Penn State’s ARL strives to keep up, focusing on developing areas such as situational awareness, geospatial analytics, and the merging of the geospatial and cyber realms.
Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) has solved technological problems and defined unknowns for federal and commercial partners since 1934. Representing GTRI on stage was Senior Research Scientist and Chief of Army Strategic Programs Bryant Springer. According to Springer, about 90 percent of GTRI’s research is in support of federal agencies. All told, the program conducts roughly $370 million in research each year.
The full integration of the research institute with Georgia Tech’s academics is a large draw for agencies and others seeking contract work through GTRI. The school’s undergraduate engineering programs are ranked fourth in the U.S., and its aerospace program is consistently in the top two nationwide.
“That’s something we’re truly proud of, Springer said. “GTRI itself hires more [Georgia Tech] graduates than any employer in the city of Atlanta.”
The institute is organized into eight labs and 18 field offices under three overarching directories: Electronics, Optics and Systems; Information and Cyber Sciences; and Sensors and Intelligence Systems. Springer spoke primarily to research initiatives under the Information and Cyber Sciences directory.
Among these is change detection. In recent years, GTRI has internally funded research and development in novel sensors, micro gas chromatographs, image processing techniques, UAV payloads, and automation through multi-spectral machine learning.
“[GTRI is] the world leader in radar signals processing,” Springer said. Airborne SAR and automated target recognition research has enabled GTRI partners to use algorithms to identify and track moving objects, even identifying individual entities to monitor.
Other highlighted projects include a metadata non-ellipsoid error tracker, and a multi-domain analysis and deep knowledge association toolkit (MADKAT), which detects non-obvious relationships among data.
75 Years of Intel
Speaking for Johns Hopkins University’s (JHU) Applied Physics Lab (APL)—the largest of the 14 UARCs—was Jennifer Sample, the lab’s program manager for advanced science and development.
After noting some of JHU APL’s defining innovations throughout its 75-year history, Sample focused on the lab’s 3D remote sensing program, specifically referencing stereo photogrammetry and LiDAR research used to develop topographic maps, point clouds, and multi-look for 3D modeling.
Sample also called attention to a number of the lab’s competitive challenges, such as the Public Stereo Challenge, which “seeks to create operationally realistic environments in 3D,” as well as a number of internal hackathons sponsored by APL’s new intelligence systems center.
APL’s advisory role was underlined as well, specifically as a trusted partner to federal agencies such as DoD, DHS, and NASA, which APL teamed with to locate an abandoned Russian spacecraft marooned on the moon exclusively using NASA imagery.
More than Space
Though Utah State University’s Space Dynamics Lab (SDL) implies space-exclusive initiatives, “over half of our work is aircraft tactical reconnaissance-based,” said Jim Marshall, SDL’s business development director.
Marshall highlighted SDL’s active partnership with NASA, including the development of sensor systems used for atmospheric sampling as well as small satellite buses and assembly integration. Additionally, he brought attention to SDL’s Hyperangular Rainbow Polameter (HARP) mission, which uses polar imagery data to measure clouds in the Earth’s atmosphere in support of the NASA Earth Science Technology Office.
“The largest discipline at SDL are our software engineers,” Marshall said. “One of the projects that’s been very successful for us as a result of an over 20-year collaboration with the Naval Research Lab is the Vantage suite of software.”
Vantage software performs a number of functions on a multi-INT data processing chain. Sensors bring data down to an ingestible form within a network, then format, fuse, and run exploitation algorithms on the data before it is disseminated across a variety of platforms.
Marshall also spoke briefly to virtual image processing capability (VIPC), a Distributed Common Ground System tool that fuses data from multiple sensors (including SYERS and Global Hawk) and provides government users a high-powered processing ability with image views. Finally, attendees heard about an SDL-developed sensor control system called SIGMA, which allows users to operate multiple sensors on a single platform.