USGIF Member Spotlight: Arete

We caught up with John Wilson, Director of IC Programs at Arete, to discuss the organization’s role in the advancement of geospatial intelligence and what the future holds

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Trajectory recently caught up with John Wilson, Director of IC Programs at Arete, a science and engineering company headquartered in Northridge, California, to discuss the organization’s role in the advancement of geospatial intelligence and what the future holds.

What is Arete’s role in the advancement of geospatial intelligence?

We’ve been in business for about 45 years, but really started out as a more classic research and development company. But over our history, we’ve morphed into a more comprehensive remote sensing company that still has the scientific foundations, but we now actually make comprehensive systems, laser systems, and optical systems. So we take innovative scientific discoveries, do rapid prototype developments, and integrate them into comprehensive systems, and for GEOINT particular, ground processing software. The end goal of all of this is to provide actionable geospatial intelligence products for analysts and warfighters.

What solutions and services does Arete provide?

We do both hardware and software. We work on autonomous, low-swap solutions, that are going after the very weak signals in heavy clutter. So then we want to detect those, classify those, and characterize those, again, all to provide either analysts or warfighters with the information that they need in real-time or near real-time to understand the environment around them. Our smart systems include active and passive sensors, real-time processing, software, and complex algorithms that operate from seafloor to space.

Who are your main customers?

Our two largest are the National Reconnaissance Office and the United States Navy. But we’ve provided support to almost everyone in the Intelligence Community and a multitude of DOD agencies.

What makes Arete unique? What distinguishes the company in the geospatial industry?

I think what really sets us apart is our exceptionally low false alarm rates for all of these products. If you’ve got a Destroyer going through a straight, having a false alarm or missed mine detection could result in the loss of life. Because of the very low false alarm rates, people can trust our products, everything we do is fundamentally based on first principles. So we will typically provide estimates that have the associated errors that had been propagated through the entire processing chain. So not only do they know, for example, there’s a mine here and it should be at that location plus or minus 10-15 feet. So we provide a comprehensive solution that the analysts have learned to trust.

What excites you most about the future of GEOINT?

I’m most excited about the explosion of commercial satellite companies, especially with the recent impending launches of hyperspectral systems. So now from a remote sensing standpoint, you can leverage almost the entire electromagnetic spectrum, which gives you the ability to go after, measure, and understand a lot more of the physical world beneath the sensors. So the ability to do remote science is coming into play. Part of me always thinks back to the “Star Trek” example where you got a spaceship, and you just run a scan on a planet, and you instantly know whether it’s habitable to life, how many minerals are down there, and more. We’re not quite there yet, but the more sensors that can actually take real physical measurements is really exciting.

What is next for Arete?

We’re looking at going beyond getting detections and really understanding what’s out there. With all the extra data that’s coming in, we want to have automated ways to understand it, and then more importantly, predict what actions you might take, so predictive capabilities. That’s the direction we want to take our algorithm development in.


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