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research and development

NASA Promotes Unfunded Partnerships

August 8, 2013
By George I. Seffers

 

NASA is requesting information from U.S. companies interested in pursuing unfunded partnerships to develop integrated systems that will advance the development of commercial space products and services for human space exploration and operations. NASA officials describe the effort as a win-win-win for industry, NASA and the nation.

NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate launched the initiative, which is known as Collaborations for Commercial Capabilities. It provides opportunities for companies and non-profit organizations to access NASA’s spaceflight experience and expertise for mutually beneficial space exploration. The partnerships are designed to help companies accelerate development efforts. “I see this as benefitting all parties,” says Philip McAlister, NASA commercial space flight director. “These companies can certainly benefit from NASA’s experience. NASA is going to benefit because we get to see these innovative ideas and get to have a little better insight into what’s going on in the commercial industry so that we factor that into our deep space exploration plans.”

The benefits, however, could go beyond NASA and the companies involved. “The nation is going to benefit because we’ll see that NASA’s work is being reused for the benefit of the taxpayer multiple times. Hopefully, it will benefit our economy as well as our technological and industrial base,” McAlister adds.

Although the initial partnerships will not involve monetary contracts, companies will receive guidance and five decades of lessons learned from NASA and could eventually find the agency to be a customer. “NASA could potentially buy the services that become available that way,” McAlister states.

Software Increases 
Unmanned Craft Survivability

August 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers and Robert K. Ackerman

 

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is developing new control software to reduce the vulnerability of unmanned systems to cyber attack. This effort is relying on new methods of software development that would eliminate many of the problems inherent in generating high-assurance software.

Unmanned vehicles suffer from the same vulnerabilities as other networked information systems. But, in addition to their data being co-opted, unmanned systems can be purloined if adversaries seize control of them. This problem also applies to human-crewed systems with computer-controlled components.

If the research program is successful, then unmanned vehicles will be less likely to be taken over by an enemy. Warfighters could trust that the unmanned vehicle on which they are relying will not abandon its mission or become a digital turncoat.

This security would extend to other vulnerable systems as well. Networked platforms and entities ranging from automobiles to supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems could benefit from the research. The vulnerability of SCADA systems is well-established, but only recently has research shown that automobiles can be co-opted through their computer-controlled systems. The program’s goal is to produce high-assurance software for military unmanned vehicles and then enable its transfer to industry for commercial uses.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) program is known as High-Assurance Cyber Military Systems, or HACMS. Kathleen Fisher, HACMS program manager, says the program is aiming to produce software that is “functionally correct and satisfying safety and security policies.

“It’s not just that you’re proving the absence of a particular bad property from the security perspective,” she explains. “You’re actually positively proving that the software has the correct behavior.”

Building
 a Bigger,
 Better Pipe

August 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

 

Scientists at the U.S. Defense Department’s top research and development agency are seeking the best new ideas to provide a larger-scale mobile network to support an increasing array of bandwidth-hungry mobile computing devices for warfighters.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) has issued a Request for Information (RFI) for new technical approaches that would expand the number and capacity of Mobile Ad Hoc Networks (MANETs) nodes available in the field.

“When we look at MANETs, it’s really tough to deliver networking services to more than about 100 users,” says Mark Rich, program manager, DARPA Strategic Technology Office. Those 100 users translate into approximately 50 nodes on a mobile wireless network operating in a forward location, generally supporting everything from tactical and operational systems to advanced video services. All of these functions are carried on a service that is largely dependent on highly secure digital radio systems. Once that limit is reached, network services begin to deteriorate in quality and effectiveness. To support larger deployments or to cover a greater area, military communications experts usually knit smaller networks using other available means, such as satellites.

Coping With the 
Big Data Quagmire

August 1, 2013
By George I. Seffers

 

Researchers at one of the premier national laboratories in the United States are prepared to hand the Defense Department a prototype system that compresses imagery without losing the quality of vital data. The system reduces the volume of information; allows imagery to be transmitted long distances, even across faulty communications links; and allows the data to be analyzed more efficiently and effectively.

The Persistics computational system developed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories (LLNL) derives its name from the combination of two words: persistent surveillance. The system is designed to revolutionize the collection, communication and analysis of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) data so that warfighters do not find themselves drowning in a swamp of too much information. The ground-based system has demonstrated 1,000 times compression of raw wide-area video collections from manned and unmanned aircraft and a tenfold reduction of pre-processed images. Standard video compression can achieve only a 30 times data reduction.

The existing data processing infrastructure for national security is not designed for the amounts of information being generated by unmanned aerial systems and other platforms. In addition, the communication bandwidth supporting data transmission for air to ground and the archive storage capability are too slow to support fast-turnaround human analysis, according to LLNL researchers. “These [ISR] cameras are picking up more data than we know what to do with, and there are not enough humans on the ground to analyze every pixel,” explains Sheila Vaidya, deputy program director, defense programs, Office of Strategic Outcomes, LLNL.

Soldiers See Through Steel

August 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

Researchers are developing new ways of enabling troops inside personnel carriers to see their outside environment without increasing their vulnerability to hostile fire. The goal is to provide enhanced 360-degree situational awareness from sensors installed on a vehicle as well as from other off-board cameras in the area.

Service members sitting inside certain armor-protected military vehicles are often similar to sardines, encased in a metal box with no means for ascertaining their surroundings. These all-metal, no-window platforms put troops at a definite disadvantage, unable to eyeball threats or opportunities.

A rapid-development group is working to improve knowledge of the outside environment using a glass-pane alternative that fits onto the back door of such platforms. The team also has created a version that pulls in additional systems for even more data sharing.

The Virtual Window effort is an innovation project at the U.S. Army’s Tank Automotive Research and Development Center (TARDEC). The premise behind such initiatives is to tackle problems through innovative means faster and at less expense than standard, high-dollar research programs. In the case of the Virtual Window, an industrial designer named James Scott drew an image on the back of an infantry carrier that would show occupants the environment on the other side of the ramp. Leadership quickly took to the idea, giving researchers the go-ahead to pursue it. “We looked at how to provide situational awareness visually without putting in actual glass,” explains Andrew Kerbrat, program manager for the effort.

New Touch Technology Has Sensitive Skin

July 26, 2013

Engineers at UC Berkeley have created a system of sensors on flexible plastic that reacts to pressure by lighting up. The new "e-skin" recognizes the amount of pressure and responds with a brighter or dimmer light accordingly.

The technology can be used to give robots a more precise sense of touch and also might be used to create interactive wallpapers or automobile dashboards.

What differentiates the e-skin from other touch sensor networks is its flexibility and interactivity, says Chuan Wang, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at Michigan State University. Wang participated in the research as a post-doctoral student at UC Berkeley, as part of a research team led by Ali Javey. Because the e-skin is pliable, it can be applied as a laminate to other surfaces.



You can view the e-skin in action here:

 

Utah State Awarded Research and Development Contract

July 22, 2013
George I. Seffers

 
Utah State University Research Foundation, North Logan, Utah, was awarded a contract with a maximum value of $12 million for research and development services in support of the Precision Lightweight Weapon and Sensor Mount program. The Army Contracting Command, Fort Eustis, Va., is the contracting activity (W911W6-13-D-0005). 

A Joint Environment Changes Everything

July 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

Rear Adm. Robert Day Jr., USCG, assistant U.S. Coast Guard commandant for command, control, communications and information technology, sees the Joint Information Environment as an opportunity to resolve some of the most pressing information technology problems in the years to come as he faces a future with more challenges and fewer resources. He says a military-wide common operating environment will establish “enterprisewide mandates that programs cannot ignore.”

The admiral told the recent AFCEA Solutions Series–George Mason University Symposium, “Critical Issues in C4I,” the Joint Information Environment (JIE) will allow for more efficient system configurations and facilitate consolidation of the Coast Guard’s information technology work force. As the director of the U.S. Coast Guard Cyber Command, he also is mindful that the JIE will improve his ability to control what devices are attached to the network, giving him, for example, the opportunity to quickly detect and order the removal of an unauthorized USB thumb drive inserted into a secure network computer.

Hewing to the reality of doing more with less, the admiral also told conference attendees that within the next eight months, the Coast Guard is expected to move to the U.S. Defense Department’s enterprise email system. Adm. Day stated that even though this move initially may cost more in some cases, the long-term benefits to the service will mitigate and justify some of those costs. In addition, acknowledging the futility of reinventing the wheel, he noted that the Coast Guard is adopting the U.S. Air Force’s Virtual Flight Bag, which replaces nearly 300 pounds of printed manuals and charts carried aboard aircraft by crews. Apple iPads will be loaded with digital copies of the same material.

Visual Information
 on Your Sleeve

July 1, 2013
By Max Cacas

Recent developments in advanced materials bring the Army closer to next-generation displays for a new breed of warfighter mobile devices.

A coalition of military, academic and industry scientists is approximately one year away from the first working prototypes of mobile devices using newly developed flexible display technologies. The goal is to demonstrate that manufacturing the displays can be done economically, and in quantity, so that they can be widely adopted by mobile device makers, benefitting both the military and consumers. Project managers ultimately hope to introduce mobile devices that are lighter, more reliable and less expensive.

These displays could make possible small screens bearing important tactical information that would be worn on the sleeve of a soldier’s uniform. Another use might be as a pen that fits in a pocket but contains a roll-out display with maps and mission information. The technology even might enable rugged displays worn on the thigh of a field medic with the latest medical record information on the patient in front of him or her.

“The goal of the program is to speed development of flexible displays for the soldier,” says David Morton, program manager for flexible displays with the Army Research Laboratory (ARL) in Adelphi, Maryland. “They had a recognized need for lightweight, rugged, flexible displays. And, although industry was working on it, the goal of the program was to speed the development so that the Army could get them sooner.”

The ARL is conducting the flexible display research and development in conjunction with Arizona State University and a growing list of industry and academic partners (see box, page 47). The focus of the nearly decade-long collaborative effort is the Flexible Display Center (FDC), located in Tempe, Arizona.

Sharing the 
Secrets of 
Cybersecurity

July 1, 2013
By Rita Boland

Protection is as much about 
who you know as what you know.

The tasks critical to success in the realm of information assurance have become so robust that a breadth of expertise is now necessary to stop cybercriminals. To that end, Sandia National Laboratories, Albuquerque, New Mexico, opened a new research facility called the Cyber Engineering Research Laboratory to promote the collaboration required to safeguard networks. An accessible external location, coupled with a synergistic internal mindset, enables advancements and maturity of concepts essential to success in the cyber realm.

Unlike most of the larger laboratory that sits in a secure, restricted area, the smaller subordinate one is located in the open Sandia Science and Technology Park to facilitate access for private sector, university and other nonlaboratory personnel. Inside the facility, researchers from the disparate fields of cognitive science, network defense and analytics are working together to find solutions to cyberchallenges. “That’s a very powerful effect from a cross fertilization standpoint,” says Ben Cook, an acting senior manager in Sandia’s Information and Cognitive Sciences Group. Permanent staff at the Cyber Engineering Research Laboratory (CERL) include established employees from other parts of the laboratory as well as incoming researchers.

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