SENSIAC Center Helps Advance Military Sensing
Georgia Tech hosts information and education effort for defense sensors
In the past, military sensing technologies have focused on observing and targeting the enemy from a distance. But with the new emphasis on homeland security, sensors must get up close and personal.
"We now face a new concept of war where instead of being miles away, the enemy may be in the same building or just a few feet away," said David Shumaker, director of SENSIAC, the military's sensing information analysis center. "That means a paradigm shift in the design of sensors. In many applications today we need technologies for situational awareness, where long range may be a secondary consideration."
Housed within the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), SENSIAC is one of the newest information analysis centers (IACs) serving the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). It replaces IRIA, a center that was initially founded at the University of Michigan's Willow Run Laboratories and operated there under various ownership for nearly 50 years until Georgia Tech won the contract in December 2004.
"Although IRIA focused primarily on infrared technologies, SENSIAC has a much broader mission and scope," said Ann Batchelor, SENSIAC's deputy director. "We provide information on all sensing-based technologies related to defense activities, including infrared, laser, radar, acoustic, electro-optical, aroma, chemical and many other sensors."
In addition to being a clearinghouse for information, SENSIAC conducts research projects and educational programs. The center draws upon experts across the Georgia Tech campus, as well as seven other universities that serve as SENSIAC team members.
Winning the DoD contract gives Georgia Tech national recognition in the military sensing arena, Shumaker said: "This places us in the center of the military sensing community. We touch everyone in one way or another."
Indeed, SENSIAC supports the defense department and other government branches, including intelligence agencies like the FBI and CIA. In addition, the center helps government contractors and university researchers engaged in activities for national defense or homeland security.
"SENSIAC has a very broad audience," Shumaker said. "We serve everyone from university researchers to soldiers who are firing rifles."
* Warfighters who need to know the limitations of a particular sensor or training in how to use it.
* DoD program managers who need an independent party to evaluate competing technologies.
* Contractors who need help testing new sensing equipment or simulating how well it will perform.
"To get help from SENSIAC, anyone in the military sensing community need only call or e-mail us with a problem," said Shumaker. "SENSIAC puts an expert on problems immediately, and best of all, it costs the user nothing. It is a free service of the IAC. We have answered questions from 'can you give me an expert in binary gas Joule-Thompson coolers' to 'how do I tune my missile warning receiver.' Inevitably, if the task requires extensive research, we have to charge the user."
Education is an important part of the center's mission. Between the end of the Cold War and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, there was little hiring of sensing specialists in both government and industry circles. And now that a number of senior engineers are retiring, there is a lack of mentors for newcomers.
To help bridge this experience gap, SENSIAC offers continuing education classes for DoD, intelligence and homeland security agencies, as well as their contractors. Seven courses were available this fall, including classes on hyper-spectral imaging, target acquisition modeling and military laser principles. During the next few months, the curriculum will be expanded rapidly to more than 40 courses.
"SENSIAC really raises Georgia Tech's profile in defense sensing," said David Schmieder, the center's Coordinator for Electro-Optics Education and Technical Inquiries.
"We've always been an educational leader in this area, providing specialty training that wasn't available anywhere else, but it was hard to get the word out," Schmieder explained. "Now SENSIAC gives Georgia Tech a formal path to make agencies aware that these programs exist, and it gives the military a formal path to request specific educational programs it may need."
SENSIAC also manages the defense department's Military Sensing Symposia (MSS). These eleven annual conferences, which began in 1956, enable government and industry experts to gather and share best practices about classified projects in a protected environment. Proceedings of the meetings are archived and made available to those with appropriate security clearance.
Because of a unique contract provision, SENSIAC can conduct research on an expedited basis for government agencies and contractors. "As long as the research is related to military sensing in some way, a project can get a green light in as quickly as two weeks, as opposed to waiting six to eight months under alternative contracting methods," Schmieder said.
The center is also launching a technology transfer program, which will be led by Edward Reedy, GTRI's retired director. The idea is to move emerging technology out of universities and into military sensing applications more quickly, Shumaker explains.
"SENSIAC is an enabler of military sensing technology," Shumaker added. "We exist to help others do their jobs faster, cheaper and more efficiently."
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Writer: T.J. Becker