Taking part in a hacking event late last month at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) already is paying dividends for the NAVSEA Warfare Centers — and potentially the Navy.
Gary Huntress, an electrical engineer at NUWC Newport Division, was one of about a dozen Warfare Center (WC) Division employees who participated in HACKtheMACHINE held Sept. 23-24 by the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL).
Dubbed “Blue Angels for geeks,” HACKtheMACHINE was the third in a series of Navy-sponsored public hacking events addressing digital challenges using actual Navy data and held at technology centers, rather than naval bases.
The experience as part of the team that won the “Data Science and the Seven Seas” challenge led Huntress and his teammates to develop a proposal for a patent, which Huntress plans to file through Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport.
For the challenge, the teams were given a dataset from the Navy’s Integrated Condition Assessment System (ICAS) — including engine temperatures, oil pressure and other shipboard metrics, some collected electronically and some manually — and were asked to design algorithms to determine actionable data trends.
However, Huntress said, his team of four — which also included a submarine officer, a surface officer and a recent physics graduate — determined the quality of the data wasn’t consistent or complete enough, and instead set about finding a way to improve data collection that would enable them to use machine learning. The team proposed a tablet-based application for data collection.
“We want to make it easier for (the fleet) to collect the correct data,” Huntress said. “The tool we would develop helps them input higher quality data.”
More than 400 people participated in the Boston HACKtheMACHINE event, which kicked off Sept. 22 on the USS Constitution — the Navy’s oldest commissioned warship — and provided a number of networking opportunities over the weekend in addition to three distinct hacking challenges. The other challenges were “Maritime Capture the Flag,” in which groups used Tactical Reconfigurable Underway Demonstration Interface (TRUDI), billed as the world’s first maritime electronic test bed, for conducting cybersecurity research, and “Virtual Reality Disaster Relief,” which explored innovative ideas in using virtual and augmented reality tools and immersive technologies in support of disaster relief efforts.
“The biggest cyber threat that we have is our ability to generate capabilities, algorithms and code at a pace that matches organizations’, both nation states and others, ability to innovate attacks,” said Cmdr. Zac Staples, Director of NPS’s Center for Cyber Warfare and founder of HACKtheMACHINE. “If we build defenses and offenses in the same industrial model that we build ships and airplanes, which is a seven-, eight-, sometimes a 10-year development cycle, then we will lose the innovation battle every time. The way you get ahead is you get people excited to work on national security problems, and that is what HACKtheMACHINE does.”
In addition to the NPS Center for Cyber Warfare and CSAIL, the Boston event was co-sponsored by NAVSEA, Program Executive Office Littoral Combat Ships (PEO LCS), Unmanned Maritime Systems Program Office (PMS 406) and Tactical Networks Program Office (PMW 160).
“The Naval Postgraduate School is working with the Navy on creating these kinds of events for branding, recruitment and networking” across the Department of Defense (DoD), Department of the Navy (DON), industry and academia, said Stephen O’Grady, Director of Strategy and Technology for the Undersea Warfare Combat Systems Department at NUWC Newport Division. “The real magic is making those connections,” he said.
O’Grady, one of eight NUWC Newport Division employees who participated in the event, helped facilitate the Virtual Reality challenge, which explored how virtual and augmented reality tools could be used to centralize control and command, particularly for unmanned systems, in a humanitarian/disaster relief scenario. Working on a common problem with people outside the enterprise gives the Navy a better idea of commercial solutions that may be available from non-traditional sources, he said.
Christian Williams, a computer scientist at NSWC Corona Division who currently is assigned to NAVSEA 05, participated in an “Architects” track of high-level subject matter experts assembled by NAVSEA Chief Engineer, Rear Adm. Lorin C. Selby that ran parallel to the public Data Science track. Guided by a team of flag/Senior Executive Service (SES) participants called "Designers," the Architects explored the realm of the possible in artificial intelligence and machine learning through technology and research presentations and expert interviews. The group also heard presentations by the teams in the Data Science track and selected the top three.
“I was pleasantly surprised with the level of interest from the public in helping the DON with these data usage issues,” Williams said. “I also was exposed to other groups within the DON that are involved with this type of work, from other DON civilians to service member Sailors themselves.”
Unlike Huntress, who had participated in a number of internal hack-a-thons before attending HACKtheMACHINE, this was Williams’ first hacking event.
“The time-constrained hack aspect was something that I had been curious about for a while now,” he said. “I did observe that the time constraints forced a rapid-prototype approach to the development. Some of the ideas from the teams were really good and they came up with surprising results and insights when you consider the time.
“Events like this … force an opportunity to reflect on how things might be done by others and provide a context to maybe even change existing systems and services for the better,” Williams said.
Dr. Pearl Rayms-Keller, Senior Scientist at NSWC Dahlgren Division, also was part of the Architects track. The team she was on, which included two Navy officers, centered its design on a strategy to exploit advances on artificial intelligence and existing NAVSEA data analytics tools to provide the combat commander or decision maker with real-time information to contain, prevent or mitigate technology surprises.
“In times of limited resources, the ability to leverage expertise and resources across centers towards a common goal becomes of paramount importance,” she said. “The hacking meeting provided not only a platform to pitch new paradigms for novel artificial-intelligence-based naval systems to our leadership, but also gave us a view of the vision of our senior leaders.”
From Selby’s perspective, events like HACKtheMACHINE are vital to shaping the Navy’s posture on cybersecurity, machine learning and rapid prototyping.
“In Boston, NAVSEA 'hacked' into our own way of thinking to explore new digital capability, data analytics and engineering and network security,” he said. “We need agility in terms of people, tools and techniques to exploit the vast amounts of data we've collected and will generate in the future — and should organize some of our efforts as a series of agile sprints, experiments and increments vice monolithic projects.
“Data engineering — the up-front collecting, structuring, organizing and access — is as critical to effective data analysis as the data analytic methods themselves,” said Selby, former NSWC Commander. “Our Warfare Centers, linked with industry and academic partners, are crucial to helping the DON unlock information held in our data systems and using it to expand the advantage that knowledge will bring."
For more news from NAVSEA and the Warfare Centers, go to www.navsea.navy.mil.