January 22, 2010
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., May 26 -- A team of Purdue University students has applied modeling and simulation tools normally used in military surveillance to develop a system that would use drones for detecting arson fires and tracking perpetrators in national forests.
The project was one of five completed by students in a graduate level course, "System of Systems Modeling and Analysis," taught in collaboration with experts from Lockheed Martin Corp. and using software from Analytical Graphics Inc., or AGI.
The projects focus on "intelligence surveillance reconnaissance," known as ISR, involving the coordination of various components such as drone aircraft, ground vehicles, insurgents, arsonists, military personnel and other elements, said Daniel DeLaurentis, an associate professor in Purdue's School of Aeronautics and Astronautics who teaches the course.
"You need to know what's out there, who's out there, and keep track of everything using unmanned aerial vehicles and other assets," he said. "When I look at the problem of detecting forest fires and arsonists, that's essentially the same problem the military faces. In the military application, insurgents are targets, but in the firefighting application, it's arsonists or the fire itself."
The forest-fire simulation coordinates two types of drones and observers in watchtowers to track arsonists in the Cleveland National Forest in Southern California. Arson fires in 2008 burned 25,000 acres and caused $24 million in property damage in Southern California forests, said graduate student Shashank Tamaskar, who led the project.
The student teams tackled applications taking a "system of systems" approach, or a new way of analyzing a complex system made up of many component systems.
"You have multiple systems, like airplanes or rockets, but also humans, that when linked together in a particular way can produce a new capability," DeLaurentis said. "You could think of a hundred different types of unmanned aerial vehicles, but you have to choose those with the best features so the entire system meshes well."
The students working on the forest-fire application won first place in AGI's University Grant Competition, which will be accepted by Tamaskar this summer.
"The competition was steep, with more than 50 entries from 10 countries, but this team's unique application of AGI software and seamless execution wowed the judges," said Dan Kane, AGI strategic marketing manager.
AGI's STK software is used for modeling, engineering and operations in space, cyberspace, aircraft, missile defense, and electronic systems and for making critical decisions using real-time battlefield data. The STK computer program makes it easier to model the complex interactions of components to simulate such systems. More information about the AGI University Grant Competition is available at http://www.agi.com/edugrant.
"The projects provide a great learning experience and collaboration that brings together a prime contractor, a software company and a university working together to improve the skills of students in the important area of system of systems," said DeLaurentis, who expects to continue working with Lockheed Martin and AGI next year.
Of the 47 students in the class, 17 were distance-learning students, mostly engineers working for industry and government.
"It's good to mix traditional graduate students with people who have a lot of experience working in the field," DeLaurentis said.
The students used AGI's software and a mathematical technique called agent-based modeling to integrate all of the elements and predict overall performance. Three of the teams dealt with military applications, and two were civilian related, including the firefighting project.
Lockheed Martin contributed ideas to define the projects, completed by teams consisting of three to five students each.
"It's interesting to see what the students come up with as they approach the problem without bias and with a system-level view to solving the larger issues. The teams were very creative and found new ways of approaching problems," said John Sheehan, systems engineer with Lockheed Martin. "You learn a lot from working with the students."
One of the student teams will present a research paper during the Fifth IEEE International Conference on System of Systems Engineering on June 22-24 in Loughborough, England. That project focused on tracking and surveillance in mountainous terrain for the military.
The students determined the ideal characteristics, such as speed, altitude and special capabilities for the drones and how to coordinate different types of drones.
The students conclude in the research paper that their mission would be more successful and less expensive to carry out with the introduction of a hypothetical, new type of drone capable of flying at medium speeds and altitudes to replace the low-altitude, low-speed craft.
The same sort of modeling and simulation might be used to plan how to carry out a rescue operation over a metropolitan area, such as New Orleans during hurricane Katrina.
"It's the same sort of thing, you are using a collection of assets to cover the area affected in a disaster to gather intelligence and surveillance about where victims might be located, where they might be in trouble and how to gather that information as soon as possible," DeLaurentis said.
Source: Purdue University
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