It's no secret that the military sometimes steals pages from the private sector-and vice versa-when it comes to technology. For instance, a video game, "America's Army," is now the U.S. Army's most effective recruitment tool.
Nonetheless, I'm surprised to learn the military has taken a play page from the NFL to deal with an overwhelming amount of video data being collected by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
You probably know that UAVs are widely used in Afghanistan and Iraq, but this Defense Industry Daily offers a fascinating look at the data integration and management challenges UAVs create.
First, they generate an incredible amount of information. If you were to sit down with popcorn to watch the video produced last year alone, you'd better own stock in Orville Redenbacher, because it would take you 24 years to watch it all. You read that right-years. As in, time to grow a baby into a full-grown adult with $50,000 worth of college debt and a first job that pays $20,000, with three sick days.
But that's nothing compared to the sequel coming out in 2011, when the military predicts its new UAV models will produce 30 times more information.
So, how does the military manage all this information? I'll probably be accused of aiding and abetting terrorists for saying this, but frankly, it sounds like it's not.
As things stand, not only are UAVs producing a huge amount of untagged data, that data's not even integrated across the various UAVs. That's right-each brand of UAV is its own data silo, unable to share information with other types of UAVs. So the popular MQ-1 Predator UAV's ground-control solution can't share information with the Global Hawk's ground-control solution. Multiple systems, each with its own siloed interface and therefore siloed data. Does this ring a bell for any of you out there?
Since 2008, the Pentagon has been working on a common, open architecture to control all UAVs and share information across platforms. Of course, that process is fraught with its own issues, which the Defense Industry Daily documented in this March article.
That information is only just now being tagged, which is where the NFL comes in. Apparently both the U.S. Navy and Air Force have studied and want to emulate the broadcasting techniques used to manage professional football footage:
Like John Madden, the U.S. military is using telestrators, such as the one on the Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver (ROVER). This technology is similar to that used by Madden to mark and analyze football plays on the video screen. The telestrator enables U.S. military commanders in the field to circle images of vehicles or individuals they want the UAVs to track.
The article looks at other solutions and techniques the military is exploring to corral all this unstructured information, including an effort to pull the metadata from UAV video and combine it with geographical information systems (GIS), intelligent search and something called sensor fusion.
The issue will only get worse for the military, which plans to use more advanced UAVs and fly even more UAV missions in the coming years. But it's a fascinating problem that speaks more broadly to the information integration and management challenges government will be facing as it adds more video to an already overwhelming data problem.