Robots have led the way for human space exploration, and NASA is counting on them to serve as partners in the next round of endeavors. The space agency is teaming with industry on new technologies that will develop innovative robotic systems and offer capabilities that are key to expanding the reach of humans beyond Earth.
Robots may one day learn to perform complex tasks simply by watching humans accomplish those tasks. That ability will allow people without programming skills to teach artificial intelligence systems to conduct certain functions or missions.
Teaching artificial intelligence systems or robots usually requires software engineers. Those programmers normally interview domain experts on what they need the machines to do and then translate that information into programming language, explains Ankit Shah, a graduate student in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) and the Interactive Robotics Group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
The U.S. Defense Department is increasingly using digital replicas to make predictions about the performance of complex weapons systems such as satellites or jet engines and to train artificial intelligence how to fly high-performance aircraft.
Last year, the U.S. Air Force used this digital twin technology to assess the cyber vulnerabilities of global positioning system (GPS) satellites for the first time. Advocates say the same approach can be used in training artificial intelligence (AI) and can be employed for predictive maintenance to determine when vital parts of an engine might be at risk of failure.
The current development of particular robots for NASA represents a methodical shift in how some Lunar or Martian vehicles are designed and how the related components or systems are included to support vehicle operation. Carnegie Mellon University and Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic are working on a lunar robot for NASA’s Lunar Surface and Instrumentation and Technology Payload program, or LSITP, that is small, fast, solar-powered and will not be teleoperated nor radiation-hardened, which is quite a change from more risk-adverse prior methods.
Scientists conducting basic research at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory are examining how to build characteristics into a robotic system to improve human-nonhuman teaming. While artificial intelligence and machine learning applications can be trained to perform a task, those kinds of systems are not yet able to collaborate with humans and cannot anticipate human intent or what they will do.
Robots trying out to become part of the U.S. Army’s battlefield force now have their own real-world testbed built atop what used to be a nerve gas testing site. The Army Research Laboratory has built the Robotics Research Collaboration Campus, or R2C2, in Graces Quarters at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Formerly a superfund site, the area now is sprouting buildings amid mixed wooded and grassy terrain typical of what the Army may find on future battlefields.
In 1991, as part of an education program I was taking, I had an opportunity to visit several factories that were using robotics. That included visits to an automobile assembly factory in Kentucky and a Hitachi assembly plant in Japan. I was impressed with the precision and efficiency of the robots I saw in those plants. At the time, factory robots performed mostly routine, repetitive or dangerous tasks. They saved time and money, provided precision assembly and improved productivity, in part by reducing human errors. They precisely drilled every hole for every rivet.
The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA’s) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has broken ground on its Exascale Computing Facility Modernization (ECFM) project. It will substantially upgrade the mechanical and electrical capabilities of the Livermore Computing Center. The upgrades will enable the facility to provide exascale-class service (supercomputers capable of at least one quintillion calculations per second) to the NNSA laboratories: LLNL, Los Alamos and Sandia.
Although the Army’s Integrated Tactical Network has faced delays for a variety of reasons, the two-channel manpack radio will undergo operational testing this fall, according to Gen. John Murray, USA, commander, Army Futures Command.
NASA's Science Mission Directorate is partnering with Los Angeles-based aerospace technology accelerator Starburst in offering a $1 million prize challenge. Known as the Entrepreneurs Challenge, the effort is meant to pull in state-of-the-art technology from individuals and corporations in three technology areas: physics-based transfer learning and artificial intelligence; advanced mass spectrometry; and quantum sensors.
The efficiencies of using and embedding open source software (OSS) carry many risks. In the advent of free repositories and millions of open source projects, the notion of any reasonable centralized authentication about the origin or any assurance as to correctness is virtually impossible. As a result, users should cultivate trust relationships with a few suppliers and keep them up to date.
In the future, anyone trying to figure out how to use limited resources may reap the benefits of computers that are a hybrid of quantum and classical systems.
Such hybrid computers might prove especially efficient and effective at solving certain kinds of problems, such as strategic asset deployment, global supply chains, battlefield logistics, package delivery, the best path for electronics on a computer chip and network node placement. Research also could impact machine learning and coding theory.
Information technology modernization has reached a precipice within the federal government as agencies struggle to manage many moving parts and jockey for the same pot of money and talent. Add to the fray the results of a new survey showing an alarming reliance by federal agencies on outdated information technology systems.
The U.S. Army’s transition to preparing for large-scale combat operations has highlighted a capability gap in medical care delivery. Mobile Medic offers a telehealth solution to address this capability gap. By employing telecommunications technology, the tool is the tip of the spear for the Defense Health Agency and Medical Command’s virtual health line of effort.
As the world becomes more complicated, everyone strives to find ways to simplify it. The retail industry’s big box chains demonstrate this by allowing customers to avoid going to multiple stores, while mail-order clothing services allow you to “try before you buy” in the comfort of your own home.
In the information technology (IT) industry, this streamlining takes the form of buying Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS). Using cloud-based tools and technologies not only assures users access from anywhere and on any device, but it also allows agencies to use fewer IT staff and procure pay-as-you-go, consumption-based services.
The U.S. Army soldier proceeds methodically, picking his way through dense vegetative growth as he traverses a battlefield that geologically is ages old, but technologically is years in the future. With the enemy rendering satellite-borne GPS signals ineffective, the soldier resorts to his internal position-location unit that pinpoints his spot to the meter. His external sensor suite alerts him to the presence of enemy air and ground forces, but they are far enough away to be of no consequence yet. That raises suspicions in his mind, as they seem to have left the soldier’s area strangely undefended—even unattended.
Many experts have imagined a future in which the Department of Defense deploys an army of gadgets to track the health of individual warfighters in real time. However, most did not envision a global pandemic being the tipping point for the large-scale adoption of devices.
As the world faces the coronavirus pandemic, leaders want to better understand the health of soldiers, Marines, airmen and sailors in real time, securely while maintaining some semblance of privacy. As leaders and program managers wrestle with decisions to employ these technologies, they must address information security, privacy and the need to know.
The U.S. Army’s xTechSearch program, which is designed to rapidly develop technologies, may offer more specialized challenges similar to the one recently conducted to develop a medical ventilator to help in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
The xTechSearch program develops partnerships primarily with nontraditional businesses that do not normally work with the military but that may offer dual-use solutions the Army never knew it needed. While most of the challenges have been wide open with companies allowed to pitch any solution, the program recently issued a challenge targeted specifically at developing the COVID-19 ventilator.
The implications of 5G for the U.S. Defense Department are profound. Among the plethora of capabilities it will provide—enabling the Internet of Things, low latency, higher bandwidth—5G could be used to run a multilevel secure coalition communications system.
Experts agree that reopening the United States requires contact tracing—working out, when someone has tested positive for COVID-19, who they might have infected already. Contact tracing, like any kind of detective work, is ultimately a very human undertaking. It’s a labor intensive, empathetic process of walking people back through the last few days of their lives and helping them remember who they might have been in close enough contact with to infect.
You can’t do that with an app—especially one that’s not downloaded by 80 percent of smartphone users, and uses Bluetooth location data that might list someone in an adjacent apartment as a “close contact.”