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ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (May 19, 2015) - Apple’s Siri. IBM’s Watson. Google Now. These well-known systems attempt to interact with humans in natural ways, solve complex problems, try to evolve, and continually better understand their environments and the humans with whom they interact.

Sound familiar? In many ways, each of these technologies are acting like a staff for their human counterparts. The U.S. Army Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center, or CERDEC is seeking to apply cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and computer automation to support tactical decision making for Army commanders and their staff.

CERDEC will launch a new science and technology project next year called the Commander’s Virtual Staff, or CVS, which seeks to fundamentally transform how automation is delivered to commanders.

While Army S&T has made significant progress in providing data to decision makers, the focus is now transforming that data into information and knowledge as well as providing decision-aiding tools.

Studies show that battalion commanders are unhappy with the number of systems that must be consulted and the volumes of data that must be mentally processed to make decisions, according to the Mission Command Center of Excellence at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

To achieve situational understanding, commanders must interact with a large number of support staff and examine different computer systems, all while mentally fusing large data sets to perform informed decision making.

The CVS project will provide computer automation specifically targeted to commanders and their close staff by exploring commercial technologies and advances in artificial intelligence that provide users with proactive suggestions, advanced analytics and natural interaction tailored to the user’s unique needs and preferences.

“There’s been limited machine support designed to integrate across warfighting functions and facilitate mission command tasks,” said Lt. Col. Michael A. Baker, CERDEC Command, Power and Integration Directorate military deputy. “CVS will leverage automation and cognitive computing technologies to grapple with countless data sources and intense situational complexity on the battlefield, not to make decisions, but to help commanders make better, more informed decisions.”

Army researchers hope to provide a suite of tools to enhance the commander’s ability to understand, visualize, describe and direct. In addition to automated support for executing operations processes, the project will offer decision support software for all phases of the operations process from planning, preparation, execution and after action reviews.

Some of the major capabilities will include data aggregation, integrated agile planning, computer-assisted running estimates, continuous predictions of events-based current mission and situational awareness data, recommendations and options.

The program will provide data aggregation by interfacing into existing command post systems to consolidate and mediate information as needed – whether that be from staff computer systems, sensors or Soldiers – and provide the commander with an aggregated data collection.

The integrated agile planning capability will be able to produce an electronic representation of the mission that can be used to facilitate wargaming, preparation, rehearsal and provide coordination during mission execution for both human and autonomous systems.

“With CVS, we’re after a less familiar sort of autonomy found inside command and staff support systems and servers as opposed to better known examples such as route planning for UAVs and ground robots,” Baker said. “CVS will support goal-directed systems by better capturing and interpreting user intent to focus situational assessments, develop and analyze potential courses of action and identify unanticipated risks and threats.”

The assessment capability will continually compare the current situation against the intent of the commander’s plan to assess whether or not decisions need to be made and to advise when situations may require attention. These computer-assisted running estimates will provide the commander and staff a continual flow of recognized risks and opportunities based on how well the state of the real world tracks the world envisioned in the commander’s intent.

While the prediction capability can be used to generate alerts and provide a future operating picture with associated confidence levels, operations and recommendations will be continuously generated based on mission goals, local knowledge, predictions and the current situation. It will provide the commander with a range of options for consideration in any given situation and provide an analysis of the relative merits of each. The intent is for humans to be aware of choices and their associated cost/benefit analysis, but not to have CVS make the decision.

“Machine learning as well as user configuration will improve the system over time to better support specific individual and organizational processes and preferences. Behaviors may be tuned by users during training or following real-world engagements so that the system grows with the commander and staff,” Baker said. “CVS objectives include learning and recognizing user patterns, testing and updating models of enemy tactics as well as local environments to continually improve assessments. Configurations used by successful commanders may ultimately provide a priceless digital record of knowledge, processes and experiences useful for training new commanders.”

The project is part of Army researchers’ long-term vision for supplying mission command, directly supporting the Army’s Operating Concept 2020-2040 and the Army’s key technology imperatives to execute mission command, enhance situational understanding, optimize human performance and help develop key leaders.

CP&I is integrating and extending previous work and lessons learned from programs such as its Mission Command and Actionable Intelligence Technology Capability Demonstration and its prototype support of the Commander’s Toolkit.

Under the MC/AI TECD, CP&I and its partners – CERDEC’s Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate and Night Vision and Electronics Sensors Directorate, RDECOM’s Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Engineer Research and Development Center – developed tools to push proactive information to small unit leaders before they needed to ask for it.

“In the MC TECD, we are able to tell the INTEL system what the unit is trying to do and then have the INTEL system decide and provide information that would be useful to the unit all without the Soldier asking for it – or even knowing the information existed,” said Osie David, CP&I MC/AI TECD project lead.

CP&I is also working with the MC CoE to develop an experimental implementation of the Commander’s Toolkit.

MC CoE performed an in-depth analysis of what information Battalion commanders need to execute Mission Command. The results have led to the definition of a software toolkit designed to assist in executing the commander’s mission command tasks. CP&I engineers are working with MC CoE to extend the toolkit’s capabilities and to bring the tools to life on different digital devices ranging from large 60-inch touch surfaces to tablets and smart phones.

“An important goal of the Commander’s Toolkit is to give the commander intellectual and location flexibility,” said Alex O’Ree, CP&I Tactical Computing Environment project lead. “The commander can choose the tools that make sense to him rather than being forced to accept an entire ecosystem. We’ve designed the tools so that the commander can access them in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center), in a vehicle or when dismounted. The commander’s capabilities will not be location dependent and only one user interface needs to be understood."

The CVS design team will use an open framework to invite contribution and extension from experts in multiple fields. The open software platform will be designed to be an integration point for technologies developed by CERDEC directorates, as well as contributions from other Defense Department S&T organizations. CVS will act as the incubator for developing a series of useful digital decision support capabilities to be transitioned to programs of record from PEO C3T, PEO Soldier and others.

The Commander's Virtual Staff will be a challenging science and technology effort and will require the collaboration of many partners in order to achieve the vision.

"We will look to leverage industry, academia and the research labs to define and develop a program that reduces the commander's cognitive burden. CVS will provide future forces with the decisive agility necessary to be able to see, understand, decide and act more quickly than their opponents," said Lisa Heidelberg, chief for CP&I Mission Command Capabilities Division.

Media inquiries may be directed to the CERDEC Corporate and Public Communication Office.

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