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Getting In Touch with Digital Data

June 15, 2011
By Jordan Garegnani, SIGNAL Connections

The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency is asking companies not only to create better keyboard-tethered 3-D imaging platforms but also to bring analysts into the 3-D world through kinesthetic interaction with imagery taken from above areas of interest. The goal is to improve digital signal processing to make 3-D coordinate-under-cursor capabilities such as overlapping images into one image. In addition, the agency wants the ability to create one complete image using information received from several platforms regardless of sensor location and preferably with video and still picture capabilities.

The request for proposal (RFP) for the first phase of the research asks experts to create 3-D auto-georegistration using dense pixel matching to create 3-D images from 2-D video or pictures. Although this process already exists, it requires a great deal of resources and time, which often delay the delivery of actionable intelligence to the field.

The RFP for the second phase of the work involves creating novel ways to interact with that 3-D overhead image: imagine a combination of the capabilities seen in “Minority Report,” “Iron Man” and Microsoft’s Kinect system. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) wants analysts to be able to manipulate 3-D images with their hands and “feel” the movement of the image.

“We’re looking for a new approach through applying existing off-the-shelf technology in a modern way or introducing new modern technology,” says Joeanna Arthur, project scientist in the GEOINT Analytics Division at the NGA.

According to the RFP, continued contact and increased body interaction makes comprehending and analyzing data more efficient. With this technology, analysts will be able to interact, manipulate, zoom and be in the image they are evaluating, which is much more engaging than using a mouse and keyboard to sift through images.

Arthur says company bids for the project will be judged on scientific style and commercial merit. While consumers may want something that looks as cool as the programs in “Minority Report,” Arthur says the NGA has no idea how it will turn out. “We don’t have a particular technology in mind, but we’d like to see technology like that. We want to keep ideas open for possibilities.”

Video games have advanced quickly in the field of image capture and digital manipulation technology, and the NGA is looking for applied science along the same lines as the gaming world with consoles such as the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Kinect, she adds.

The current RFPs are for phase one and phase two contracts with the possibility of a phase three contract. Phase one will last roughly six to nine months and will involve the early exploration of solutions and, through proof-of-concept work, experts will determine whether they are feasible in the real world or if futuristic technology of this sort should be left up to the movies.

Phase two may last as long as two years and is expected to result in a working prototype. If the winning company’s research is successful through both phases, it can apply for phase three work, which would include demonstrating and creating a product for sale either to the military or in the private sector.

Companies interested in being considered for contract award must submit proposals no later than 6 a.m., June 29, 2011.

NGA officials believe whole-body manipulation of data will deliver more intelligence knowledge to the battlefield at a faster rate. If they are right, the intelligence community will have systems that beat anything we see in the movies.