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Better analysis, faster solutions needed, says DARPA head Regina Dugan in talk at SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing

27 April 2011

William Jeffrey, Kevin Meiners, Regina Dugan, Eustace Dereniak

DARPA Director Regina Dugan spoke of challenges for the R&D community in meeting the needs of defense, in a plenary talk at SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing. From left are Symposium Chair William Jeffrey (HRL Labs), Symposium Cochair Kevin Meiners (Office of the Secretary of Defense), Dugan, and SPIE President Elect Eustace Dereniak (Univ. of Arizona College of Optical Sciences).

ORLANDO, Florida, USA -- Better sensors provide better data; with better automation the result is better analysis-- an outcome much needed by U.S. forces, said DARPA Director Regina Dugan at SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing in Orlando, Florida, yesterday.

Dugan outlined the agency's new analytical framework for global integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in a symposium plenary talk she said was a "first-time briefing (on the plan) in a big public setting."

Goals are to maximize the capabilities of both data-gathering and analysis, and to develop solutions in a timely way to meet the needs of troops in theatre.

Dugan also emphasized the role of social media in data gathering as well as communication, noting the widespread and still-growing participation in channels such as Twitter and Facebook, and their important roles in recent political actions around the world.

"The internet is an instrument of democracy," Dugan said.

Social media networks can mobilize enormous data collection in a very short period of time, which Dugan illustrated via DARPA's recent "Red Balloon" Network Challenge.

Teams were challenged to submit the locations of 10 moored, 8-foot, red weather balloons at fixed locations in the continental United States.

The winning team, from Massachusetts Institute of Technology replied correctly in less than nine hours. Their network of 5,000 individuals was formed from 4 initial nodes in less than 2 days.

Social media is challenging our notion of truth as well, Dugan said. Rather than the source being a factor in deciding whether information is accurate, patterns in the frequency, timing, and similarity of data coming in from many sources becoming defining factors.

Following the theme of her talk -- "On choosing" -- Dugan said that a major present challenge is developing useful analytical tools based on the billions of dollars of available data: "We are swimming in sensors, and drowning in data."

"We need a TCP/IP for ISR," she said, in a reference to DARPA's research on digital communication protocols which became the underpinning of the internet.

Dugan said she was troubled in recent visits with U.S. military operations in Afghanistan by observing a loss of confidence on the part of warfighters in the ability of the science and technology community to provide tools and solutions "on a timescale that mattered."

She cited the recent HALO (High Altitude Lidar Operations) project as an example of DARPA's commitment to meeting that challenge. HALO allows collection of high-resolution 3D data, down to fewer than 10 photons, and is 10 times faster than state-of-the-art systems and 100 times faster than conventional systems.

While revolutionary, HALO's prompt development is a result of what Dugan called "heroic" efforts to deliver faster than the typical project lifespace of 5 to 10 years. Dugan noted that forces in theatre face exactly zero 5- to 10-year problems.

Regina Dugan, DARPA, answers questions after her talk

Regina Dugan answers questions after her talk.

More than 1,100 attendees heard Regina Dugan's plenary talk.

More than 1,100 attendees heard Regina Dugan's plenary talk.

SPIE, the international society for optics and photonics, was founded in 1955 to advance light-based technologies. Serving more than 180,000 constituents from 168 countries, the Society advances emerging technologies through interdisciplinary information exchange, continuing education, publications, patent precedent and career and professional growth. SPIE annually organizes and sponsors approximately 25 major technical forums, exhibitions and education programs in North America, Europe, Asia and the South Pacific, and supports scholarships, grants and other education programs around the world.

More news reports from SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing 2011

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