Military Embedded Systems

Human/machine interaction and the autonomous future


November 15, 2018

Mariana Iriarte

Technology Editor

Military Embedded Systems

NEWPORT, R.I. Human/ machine interaction technologies took center stage at year?s U.S. Navy Advanced Naval Technology Exercise (ANTX). The event, which took place during August 2018 in Newport, Rhode Island, showcase innovative and next-generation defense technologies in action, giving the end user a glimpse into the near future.

This year’s NUWC [Naval Undersea Warfare Center] event attracted dozens of industry, academia, and government participants, which had as its theme human/machine teaming.

Emerging threats are pushing warfighters to rely more and more on machines to be able to navigate the waters safely. This consequently sets the stage for the engineer to deliver more autonomous system into the field. For the Navy to see first-hand the technology sailors can utilize, ANTX is the ideal place to showcase what the near future can look like.

One demo showcased a team from Northrop Grumman, which showed autonomous capabilities for mine warfare operations “This year we looked at human/machine teaming, comprised of multiple different unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) below water,” says Dan Redman, ANTX Program Manager, Northrop Grumman. The demonstration also included “unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and a Fire Scout surrogate, all working together with humans in the loop to provide new concepts for end-to-end mine countermeasures operations.”

Northrop Grumman and team members – Ultra USSI Electronics, Physical Optics Corp., Silvus, Optimum Solutions, and Hydroid – worked together alongside the U.S. Navy to conduct a collaborative demo at ANTX. The demonstration consisted of an air drop sonobouy from a Northrop Grumman Fire Scout surrogate aircraft and a micro synthetic aperture sonar (µSAS) with real-time automated target recognition operating on a man-portable UUV, Northrop Grumman officials explain. (See Figure 1).

Figure 1: Northrop Grumman’s Fire Scout autonomous surrogate launches a sonobuoy as part of a demo at the 2018 Advanced Naval Training Exercise in Newport, Rhode Island. Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman.


(Click graphic to zoom)


The beauty about the ANTX exercise is that “we get to move from what I would call whiteboard sketches and gap analysis and CONOPS [concept of operations], and piece together items that may have lower TRL [technology readiness level], just to provide visibility. The Navy gets to see us testing things and we get to understand where we can best help our customers,” Redman explains.

The demonstration had two key elements, explains Alan Lytle, VP for Undersea Systems, Northrop Grumman. “The first is the Fire Scout that was providing Maritime Situational Awareness, with the second having unmanned surface vessels working in concert providing gateway communications as well as underwater ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance]. The UUV, equipped with the company’s Micro Synthetic Aperture Sonar (Micro-SAS) with real-time automated recognition, looked for mine-like objects. The information was relayed back to the Tactical Operations Center that is using Northrop Grumman’s software providing the command-and-control aspect for the team.”

To achieve successful human/machine teaming, the command-and-control center – in this case Northrop Grumman’s Ad-vanced Mission Management Control system – feeds humans all the information they need in order to decide whether the target at hand is a threat or not. The software “has the ability to ride on each of these vehicles, regardless of the vehicle make or model, and it controls the sensor and the vehicle, or as much as it needs to,” Redman says. “The theory is that it's not necessarily machine learning, but it contains all of the potential preplanned routes for that mission including the weapons load, the targets set, etc,”

The idea of human/machine teaming is to always keep the human in the loop; the system “provides a hierarchical level of control,” Redman explains. “Humans back in the Maritime Operations Center or Tactical Operations Center can provide broad mission-planning guidelines to the individual unmanned units, which get tasked to do things, and then the software that resides on the individual unmanned units calculates the necessary weight points and so forth in order to be able to effect that mission,”

For human/machine teaming in the field, these kinds of software integration reduce the workload for the warfighter and enables the machines to quickly sift through data to present to the human in the loop. This process then enables the warfighters to determine whether they want to engage or perceive the contact as friendly. The result: Manpower in the field can be reduced, saving personnel hours, and perhaps lives.

To read more on the ANTX exercise: Speeding innovative tech to the warfighter