1 June 2002
Smart sensors prowl for hidden targets
Durham, N.C.Robotic aircraft and land vehicles that sense and close in on targets hidden in trees, caves, or bunkers are being explored by a new four-university research initiative.
The hunt for a target would begin over a wide area, using stationary and moving sensors that might scan for communications signals emanating from a bunker or the different electromagnetic signatures put out by machinery or the infrared waves emitted by a heated object. Another tool would be radar.
Other sensors, perhaps installed aboard airborne or surface vehicles, would autonomously coordinate their activities with minimal intervention from humans. Those would narrow down the search using a special kind of back-tracing mathematics to locate the "fields" in space where the telltale waves vibrate.
"The idea of doing multisensing on multiple unmanned platforms is new," said Lawrence Carin, a Duke University Pratt School professor of electrical and computer engineering who is leading the four university effort.
The technology would allow increasingly localized sensor searches for quarry so hidden that "you don't even know where to start to look without this technology," Carin said. "This is a very challenging problem. It will constitute a big leap ahead from where things are today."
Researchers at Duke, Georgia Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of Michigan will take on different parts of developing the enabling mathematical underpinnings of this technology with $6 million in Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) funding, which will be administered through the U.S. Army over five years.
The objective is the development of "detection and classification algorithms for multimodal inverse problems." That means developing mathematical algorithms to "train" and control multiple sensors that could detect invisible signals emanating from targets and trace those signals back to their sourcesa technique called inversion.
"The targets could be land mines, targets under trees like tanks or troops, or targets in underground bunkers or caves," said Carin, overall administrator of the DARPA Multi-University Research Initiative (MURI) grant.
Once one group of sensors perceive potential targets, the search can then get more accurate by using a different mix of sensors. "For instance, if vehicles are moving through trees, you could actually sense the motion," he added.
"A hole in the ground will cause perturbation to the gravity that's observed on the surface, so you can detect that." Other sensors, Carin noted, might likewise register acoustic vibrations.
These arrays would do more than just sense passively. They would also have to infer from these different signals what their sources are through the inversion process. "In the campaign in Afghanistan, they're using a lot of unmanned Predator drone aircraft," Carin said. "Our vision is that in the future you could have multiple drones out there, not just collecting data but actually doing the inversion.
"You would like them to be self-controlled. They would make decisions on their own," he said. "A sensor would have to be able to think.
Return to Previous Page