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DoD, Industry and University UxS Experts Convene at Navy Technical Exchange

By NSWC Dahlgren Division Corporate Communications | Sept. 1, 2017

DAHLGREN, Va. – Dr. Dylan Schmorrow could have hunkered down at his office to think big thoughts and read scientific papers rather than taking a trip to spend two days at the Navy's Unmanned Systems Integration Workshop and Technical Exchange Meeting, Aug. 22-23.

Schmorrow, however, would not miss out on the chance to collaborate, share ideas, and ponder bigger thoughts than he could ever think alone.

Neither would his colleagues - 135 scientists, engineers and technologists in DoD, industry, and academia - all passionate about sharing their accomplishments, challenges, successes, and information on technological advancements in unmanned systems integration.

“It’s a great way to be inspired,” said Schmorrow, listing the participants gathered to cross-pollinate ideas and make connections on a variety of collaborative joint service, government and industry unmanned system integration efforts. “The Marine Corps and NAVAIR (Naval Air Systems Command) are here as well as folks from Dahlgren who are really the leaders in this area, in addition to other military services and the intelligence communities.”

In all, 31 unmanned systems experts from the public and private sectors presented 18 briefs at the event.

“The true value of the annual unmanned systems integration workshop is the opportunity to network and to be exposed to a wide variety of unmanned systems problems and possible solutions,” said Ajoy ‘AJ’ Muralidhar, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) chief engineer for Electromagnetic and Sensor Systems and co-organizer of the event. “No one organization has all the answers but through sharing and teaming we can advance integration of unmanned systems into the Fleet in a rapid fashion.”  

As participants showcased their technologies, they learned about new approaches to challenging technological problems and influenced each other’s vision of the future.

“The vision of the future here is really the removal of the burdens of technology through a lot of novel capabilities in artificial intelligence,” said Schmorrow , chief scientist at Soar Technology. “It’s about removing the burdens of technology where I’m interacting with a ton of things. I want my computer partners, robots, and autonomous agents to be seen as partners and to be teammates when we’re engaging in any activity. If it’s strategic decision making, I might have a cognitive agent. A platoon leader will have robots. I want that seamless interaction. I see a lot of folks at this workshop and conference focused on human-machine teaming and human-machine computer symbiosis.”

The NSWCDD-sponsored event ignited intense human-to-human interactions on unmanned systems and artificial intelligence technologies that are expected to result in reduced total ownership costs, maximum use of commercial off-the-shelf technologies, and advanced autonomy to allow reduced operator workload.

"In a world of declining budgets and increasing missions, everybody in government needs to share knowledge and experience," said Charles Dischinger, National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) discipline deputy for human factors. "At NASA, we're concerned about automation, human-automation interaction, and teaming. The Department of Defense is ahead of NASA in terms of experience with these efforts in the operational environment. We do a lot of human-automation interaction but it's bits and pieces whereas DoD is spread all over the map in terms of the different interactions they have."

Unmanned system technologies developed across DoD include NSWC Panama City's efforts in unmanned and autonomous systems supporting submarine and submersible hydro-acoustic and propulsor research, torpedo defense, mine countermeasures, amphibious warfare, and special operations surveillance and reconnaissance. 

Dischinger and two NSWC Panama City engineers who work on unmanned systems for Navy programs, including the Littoral Combat Ship, compared notes at the event and intend to continue their collaboration in the future.

Louis Lee - one of the NSWC Panama City engineers who met with Dischinger - presented a brief to the audience entitled, "National Unmanned Systems Shared Resource Center Lessons Learned from Unmanned Underwater Vehicle Sensor Integration".

In effect, the briefs are a response to the DoD vision for ongoing development, fielding, and employment of unmanned systems as outlined in its Unmanned Systems Integrated Roadmap 2013-2038. The roadmap discusses investments in technology to enhance capability and reduce cost.

“The Joint Staff will continue to support unmanned systems when they fulfill joint requirements and are effective and affordable,” the roadmap states. “Unmanned systems must provide capabilities more efficiently through modularity and interoperability; be more effective through greater automation and greater performance; be more survivable with improved and resilient communications, development for antipermissive environments, and more security from tampering; and take the ‘man’ out of unmanned. Currently personnel costs are the greatest single cost in DoD, and unmanned systems must strive to reduce the number of personnel required to operate and maintain the systems. Great strides in autonomy, teaming, multi-platform control, tipping, and cueing have reduced the number of personnel required, but much more work needs to occur.”

Although John Canning retired after a long career as an NSWCDD combat systems engineer, he is still working to save lives with unmanned technologies.

“I have been pursuing for years and years, beginning in late 2002, the autonomous use of weapons,” said Canning who presented a brief entitled, “SPHINX Substance Detection Technology and Unmanned Systems Integration.”

Canning’s startup company, SPHINX Ventures Inc., is developing an autonomous unmanned system coupled with SPHINX (Short Pulse High Intensity Examination) technology that detects explosives and drugs in real time. “When you’re talking about explosives, you don’t want to be that close,” said Canning, adding that an unmanned system provides, “all sorts of standoff range.”

Meanwhile, NSWCDD scientist Ben Wheeler – who helped organize the Dahlgren conference – joined senior leaders from the Army gathered at Fort Benning, Ga., on August 22, for the Maneuver Robotics and Autonomous Systems demonstration. Wheeler demonstrated the Dahlgren-developed technology called the Autonomous Remote Engagement System (ARES) for Army officials at the event. Mounted on an Army autonomous vehicle, ARES controlled a Picatinny Lightweight Remote Weapons Station and fired live rounds at targets.

“The opportunity to integrate and demonstrate technologies such as ARES as part of joint DoD unmanned system efforts is key for Dahlgren,” said Wheeler. “It’s key for all DoD to continue building new relationships and collaborations to enable better, faster, and more capable unmanned systems development – a core mission of our unmanned systems conference."

The Army’s Fort Benning demonstration revealed the realm of the possible using repurposed experimental systems or technology. For instance, surrogates such as the Humvee and M113 Armored Personnel Carriers were used as low-cost mobility platforms.

Similarly, the NSWCDD Unmanned Systems Integration Workshop and Technical Exchange Meeting explored the integration of unmanned systems, rather than the technologies of the systems themselves. 

The event focused on integrating unmanned systems with platforms such as aircraft, ships, and ground vehicles as well as with other systems such as payloads, weapons, and sensors. Briefers also discussed unmanned systems integration with regard to humans, covering operator interaction, human-robot interfaces, controllers, trust issues, and training. Integrating a universe of fast-developing unmanned systems technologies into the multiple missions of Navy warships may require as much art as science or engineering, but the effort promises to bring an elegant evolution and expansion of capabilities.