DARPA funds software to coordinate battlefield operations

WASHINGTON, D.C., 20 Sept. 2005. Researchers at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have funded a software study to help soldiers make better battlefield decisions.

WASHINGTON, D.C., 20 Sept. 2005. Researchers at the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have funded a software study to help soldiers make better battlefield decisions.

They have awarded contracts for three companies to design competing solutions for COORDINATORs (Coordination Decision Support Assistants), a program to create distributed intelligent software systems that will help fielded units adapt their mission plans as the situation around them changes and impacts their plans.

The three companies that won DARPA funds to design the system are:
* Honeywell International Inc. of Minneapolis, Minn.,
* SRI International, Menlo Park, Calif., and
* University of Southern California, Los Angeles, Calif.

A fourth company -- Global Infotek of Reston, Va. -- will provide infrastructure using its ACTIVE (Agile COORDINATOR Testbed Innovative Virtual Environment) system, a simulator allowing the three contractors to test their solutions on real-world military scenario examples.

That is described under the terms of a March 2005 contract from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Information Directorate, Rome, N.Y. For more information, see www.darpa.mil/ipto/programs/coordinators/architecture.htm.

"The COORDINATORs program is creating distributed intelligent software systems that will help fielded units adapt their mission plans as the situation around them changes and impacts their plans," said Tom Wagner, Ph.D., DARPA program manager.

"Intelligent software COORDINATORs do this by reasoning about the tasks assigned to a given unit, the task timings, how the tasks interact with those of other units, and by evaluating possible changes such as changing task timings, task assignments, or selecting from pre-planned contingencies."

SRI's Artificial Intelligence Center won a contract for one year, with an option to continue for up to three more years. It will produce a solution with a team including:
* Carnegie-Mellon University,
* Harvard University,
* University of Maryland,
* Vassar College,
* Cornell University, and
* Active Computing, Inc.

SRI and its team will focus on developing software for sequential event processing and peer-to-peer coordination for a mission already underway. Widely distributed units will use COORDINATORs to exchange and analyze information, evaluate response options, and coordinate activities. A scheduling capability will enable all mission elements to operate from a common understanding when adjusting assignments in response to unexpected events.

"Assessing the value and relevance of new information through COORDINATORs and various interacting systems will let tactical military teams take advantage of developing opportunities," said SRI's co-principal investigator Charles Ortiz, Ph.D. "Continuous negotiation through distributed scheduling technology will allow human decision-makers to concentrate on the big picture in the battlefield."

Soldiers at all hierarchical levels in a tactical scenario could benefit from the parallel and interdependent task analysis capabilities of this technology. "The result," said SRI co-principal investigator Regis Vincent, Ph.D., "will be an increased chance of success. Since plans can be changed and adapted, the mission can proceed with minimal chance of injury or loss of life."

SRI International's Artificial Intelligence Center (AIC) is one of the world's major centers of research in artificial intelligence. Founded in 1966, the AIC has been a pioneer and a major contributor to the development of computer capabilities for intelligent behavior in complex situations. Its objectives are to understand the computational principles underlying intelligence in man and machines and to develop methods for building computer-based systems to solve problems, to communicate with people, and to perceive and interact with the physical world. For more information, see www.ai.sri.com.

Silicon Valley-based SRI International is one of the world's leading independent research and technology development organizations. Founded as Stanford Research Institute in 1946, SRI has been meeting the strategic needs of clients for almost 60 years. The nonprofit research institute performs contract research and development for government agencies, commercial businesses and private foundations. In addition to conducting contract R&D, SRI licenses its technologies, forms strategic partnerships and creates spin-off companies. For more information, see www.sri.com.

By Ben Ames
Senior Editor, Military & Aerospace Electronics

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