Advanced sensors might help resolve ISR data overload

Critical analysis, innovative thinking key to solving challenges of complex technologies

At the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, where some of the military’s most complicated technologies are developed, there’s no shortage of ideas. The hard part is determining which of the countless good ideas and programs to pursue, and that requires novel scrutiny, according to Kaigham Gabriel, DARPA's deputy director.

“We need to use [an] analytical framework ... and that must include quantitative assessments,” Gabriel said May 24 at the AFCEA C4I conference in Fairfax, Va.

A prime example of using this kind of thinking to develop critical technology solutions is the Defense Department’s problem dealing with the volumes of data coming from millions of sensors deployed around the world.

“We are drowning in data and swimming in sensors,” Gabriel said. “How do you deal with the data overload?”

Some initial analysis might suggest that reducing the amount of data, or increasing the number of human analysts, would be the solution – but deeper examination reveals that the correct answer is actually counterintuitive, Gabriel said.

In fact, there could never be enough human analysts to sift through the vast amount of data, and DOD actually needs more sensors. The answer lies not in the number of sensors but in having sensors that are more technologically advanced and capable of building even better automated capabilities, Gabriel said.

“Better sensors provide better data,"  he said. "Better data enables better automation. Better automation enables better analysis."

It’s this kind of thinking that is yielding successful intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance tools like the Tactical Ground Reporting System, which is already deployed on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Video Image Retrieval and Analysis Tool, which DARPA is developing, Gabriel said.

“Let automation do what it does best, and let humans do what they do best,” he said.

He added that any global ISR solution hinges on these advancements:

  • Self-aware sensors and exploitation tools.
  • A unified global ISR workstation.
  • Real, virtual and physical test beds
  • Multi-intelligence databases.

About the Author

Amber Corrin is a staff writer covering military networks for Defense Systems.

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