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CHIPS Articles: SSC Pacific has strong showing at unmanned systems conference

SSC Pacific has strong showing at unmanned systems conference
By Katherine Connor, staff writer, SSC Pacific Public Affairs - April-June 2017
The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific (SSC Pacific) in San Diego has a storied history in development of unmanned vehicles. From leading the bathyscaphe Trieste’s 1960 mission to the bottom of Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench, to developing one of the earliest classes of undersea vehicles in the 1960s, the Cable-controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle (CURV), and creating the Mobile Detection and Response System (MDARS) in 1989, one of the first developments in autonomous vehicles, the Center has played a leading role in the field since its early days.

So it’s no surprise that SSC Pacific had a strong presence at the 2017 SPIE Defense and Commercial Sensing Conference in Anaheim, California, which was held April 9 to 13. SPIE is an international society advancing an interdisciplinary approach to the science and application of light.

SSC Pacific sent 20 authors presenting 12 different research papers covering topics, including autonomy, human-machine teaming and the integration and networking of multiple unmanned systems, to the conference. In addition, Center project manager Hoa Nguyen served as a conference co-chair, and scientist Jamie Lukos, a SSC Pacific Ph.D., chaired a section on Advanced Sensor Systems for Human-Machine Teaming. Michael Bruch and Ryan Halterman were chairs of a section on the Office of Naval Research (ONR) Expeditionary Maneuver Warfare and Combating Terrorism Department’s Ground Vehicle Autonomy project, for which SSC Pacific is the lead systems integrator.

Nguyen said this particular conference is unique in that it allows researchers to present their most recent findings and work.

"Unlike other conferences which often require you to submit your paper six months in advance, this conference selects your paper based on an abstract that highlights your topic, but you sometimes have until the conference date to submit the full paper, to ensure that the latest results are included,” Nguyen said.

One of the projects presented at the conference was IMPACT, a joint effort between SSC Pacific, the Air Force Research Laboratory, Army Research Lab and the Naval Research Lab, intended to flip the script on the operator-to-unmanned system ratio.

“The major focus of IMPACT is improving the technology that will allow a single operator to manage larger and larger numbers of unmanned vehicles,” said John Reeder, a Ph.D. and engineer at SSC Pacific, who is working on the machine learning portion of the project. “It’s trying to flip the ratio of vehicles to people as opposed to what we have now, where for every Predator or Reaper there are teams and teams of people involved having to operate that vehicle.”

Reeder and a team of 10 colleagues at SSC Pacific have spent three years advancing the software, machine learning, networking and human factors portions of the effort, which now allows one operator to simultaneously control 12 unmanned systems — four air, four ground and four surface — from a single interface, while providing the user with enhanced planning and task management input and capabilities.

Bruch said the Ground Vehicle Autonomy program has also made significant strides in integrating unmanned systems into the operational Marine Corps. SSC Pacific and partner organizations presented an update on the program as a whole, as well as papers on aspects of the autonomy work, including an advanced perception system, advanced path planning, adaptive traversibility and automated testing and evaluation tools.

“I think it’s important that this project was represented at the conference because there’s been a lot of groundbreaking work done under this program,” Bruch said. “Having all the different aspects represented at SPIE and presenting it to the community so they can build on it is important.”

The Cable-controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle (CURV) family of undersea vehicles, one of SSC Pacific’s early developments in unmanned systems dating to the 1960s. Credit: SSC Pacific.
The Cable-controlled Underwater Recovery Vehicle (CURV) family of undersea vehicles, one of SSC Pacific’s early developments in unmanned systems dating to the 1960s. Credit: SSC Pacific.
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