Kurt Wallnau, a senior researcher in the SEI’s Research, Technology, and System Solutions (RTSS) Program, believes that systems that combine social intelligence, computational intelligence, and pervasive sensing will define the field of software and systems engineering for decades to come.
As evidence of this, he points to news reports indicating that in June 2009 the Obama administration asked the social networking site Twitter to delay scheduled maintenance of its global network which would have disrupted service to Iranians in the immediate aftermath of disputed elections. Twitter delayed the upgrade. Had it not, Wallnau explains, the disruption would not only have cut off an important means of communication for Iranians, but a critical source of intelligence data for social network analysis.
“It shows the kind of profound but seldom anticipated impact that social networking technology can have on world affairs,” Wallnau explains.
To keep the SEI at the forefront of this field, Wallnau is leading an effort to create a concept lab to demonstrate such systems, among others, and the software engineering technology needed to design and operate them.
Construction on a concept lab began at the SEI’s Pittsburgh headquarters late last year. The physical space will include fixed and mobile sensors, robots, simulators, displays, and other apparatus. The lab will also be networked to collaborating laboratories, starting with researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School, with whom the SEI has partnered on previous experiments using market mechanisms to allocate tactical network bandwidth.
“The goal of the concept lab is to encourage the development of engineering prototypes that further our understanding of new system capabilities, and help us explain these capabilities to our stakeholders,” explains Wallnau, who says the lab will further the work of the RTSS Program, which works to enable cost-effective development, evolution, and recomposition of high-quality systems of all scales.
SEI researchers will use the concept lab to explore the combination of social decision making with autonomous and self-organizing sensor networks. Examples include those networks that allow human teams to use market rules to allocate portions of a swarm of sensors or unmanned aerial vehicles to different targets of interest, and allow teams to change their preferences in real time in response to changes in mission or environment.
SEI researchers will also use the lab to develop the next generation of new software and systems engineering technologies. Examples would be the SEI’s work in model-based engineering, which uses rigorous, formal descriptions of architectures and systems and interactions to analyze and predict system behavior before it is built and tested, and the SEI’s work in multi-core optimization, which helps organizations understand and adapt to this new hardware environment.
“It represents a new strategy for us, a new way of trying to connect our research to potential users who are operational-focused or engineering-focused,” explains Wallnau. “They care about what’s in the field, the systems, and how you built them.”