USGIF Member Spotlight: Riverside Research

Steven Omick, PhD, president and CEO of Riverside Research, told trajectory how his organization is helping government agencies meet GEOINT challenges

For defense and intelligence agencies who work with GEOINT, converting a deluge of sensor and imaging data into trustworthy, actionable insights is an immense challenge. It’s also precisely the sort of technological problem in which the national security nonprofit Riverside Research specializes. Steven Omick, PhD, president and CEO of Riverside Research, told trajectory how his organization is helping government agencies rise to meet the moment.

Riverside Research is unique because of its nonprofit status and mission to conduct research that will benefit the U.S. government. What’s the backstory there, and how does that orientation shape your work?

Riverside Research came out of Columbia University back in the 1960s, and national security has always been a focus, though over the course of our existence we have also worked in biomedical technology in a variety of other important areas. Now, though, we are narrowing our focus back toward national security, both from a Department of Defense and an Intelligence Community basis.

We’ve been a high-end nonprofit throughout our history, which helps differentiate us because we have a mandate to funnel money into technology development. Instead of going to shareholders or other ownership, our net income goes toward technology development in the areas of cybersecurity, machine learning and artificial intelligence, and terahertz (THz) imaging. Commercial space is very important to us as well, because there’s a growing community of commercial space providers who have optical, IR, or electromagnetic sensors onboard, and we are helping our customers in the intelligence community  figure out how to use all this commercially available data.

How is your work helping those government partners solve GEOINT challenges?

Those customers now have data coming in from all angles—airborne platforms, ground-based platforms, space-based platforms—and there’s so much data that our customers no longer have the ability to put analysts in front of all of that data all the time. So we’re looking at how to use artificial intelligence to help us reduce that data and make sense of it. We’re really focusing on that human-machine interface—how people and AI systems can work together to better provide mission intelligence across the board by getting through the mountains of data, and not taking analysts out of the loop, but actually making the analyst a more important part of that processing loop by giving them cognitive aids.

Some of your work is also focused on fostering connections and collaboration between  commercial space companies and federal partners. Tell me about those efforts.

As a national security nonprofit, many parties look at us as an honest broker. We’re in it for the mission; that’s our charter as a nonprofit. So when we saw that many commercial-space vendors struggled to understand how to do business with the Intelligence Community, and that the Intelligence Community wanted access to those commercial data sources, we saw an opportunity to get involved in a very specific way: We used our own resources to build a platform called the Commercial Innovation Center (CIC), where we’re trying to safely bring those two parties together. Commercial vendors are able to bring their data into the platform and know that their data is secure and not being shared with their competitors out in the commercial side, yet is made available to the Intelligence Community developers. We’ve operated for the last several years, and we’ve continued to build this platform and invite more of the commercial vendors into the Intelligence Community in a way that complements their business plans. We’re also working with organizations like T-Rex in St. Louis to bring an integrated approach to this important problem domain.

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