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Better automated data analysis needed by US military says DARPA director

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Better sensors provide better data; with better automation the result is better analysis – an outcome much needed by US forces, said DARPA director Regina Dugan at the recent SPIE Defense, Security, and Sensing in Orlando, Florida. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a US military research organisation.

Dugan outlined the agency's new analytical framework for global integrated intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) in a symposium plenary talk.

Goals are to maximise the capabilities of both data-gathering and analysis, and to develop solutions in a timely way to meet the needs of troops in theatre.

Dugan also emphasised the role of social media in data gathering, noting the widespread and still-growing participation in channels such as Twitter and Facebook, and their important roles in recent political actions around the world. 'The internet is an instrument of democracy,' Dugan said.

Following the theme of her talk 'On choosing' Dugan said that a major present challenge is developing useful analytical tools based on the billions of dollars of available data: 'We are swimming in sensors, and drowning in data.'

'We need a TCP/IP for ISR,' she said, in a reference to DARPA's research on digital communication protocols which became the underpinning of the internet.

Dugan said she was troubled in recent visits with US military operations in Afghanistan by observing a loss of confidence on the part of warfighters in the ability of the science and technology community to provide tools and solutions 'on a timescale that mattered'.

She cited the recent HALO (High Altitude Lidar Operations) project as an example of DARPA's commitment to meeting that challenge. HALO allows collection of high-resolution 3D data, down to fewer than 10 photons, and is 10 times faster than state-of-the-art systems and 100 times faster than conventional systems.

While revolutionary, HALO's prompt development is a result of what Dugan called 'heroic' efforts to deliver faster than the typical project lifespan of 5 to 10 years. Dugan noted that forces in theatre face exactly zero 5- to 10-year problems.

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