Software Engineering Institute | Carnegie Mellon University
Software Engineering Institute | Carnegie Mellon University

Superiority to the Edge

Teams of personnel operating in edge environments are often overloaded and unable to extract meaningful, useful information from the flood of data available to them. They also may not always be aware of potentially helpful information sources, or even the location and status of team members. What's more, in constrained environments, computation capabilities may be limited to what can be carried (such as a mobile phone or tablet), mobile bandwidth is at a premium, and battery power must be conserved because opportunities to recharge may be scarce. These challenges make it difficult for edge users to collect and distribute information to maintain situational awareness and to gain access to resources that are critical to achieving their defined missions.

The SEI builds mobile applications that operate with knowledge of the individual user's and the team's context to get the right information to the right people at the right time in an efficient way. So a mobile app that is aware of nearby team members can collaborate with apps carried by those users to eliminate sending and display of redundant or unnecessary data, thereby conserving both battery power and bandwidth. The app can also facilitate coordination during search and rescue operations by detecting nearby searchers and displaying their locations on a map. Context-aware apps can also provide feedback data on individual users. Many mobile devices contain position sensors, movement sensors, light sensors, and proximity sensors. The app can monitor these sensors and infer the activities of the user—for example, whether the user is running or stationary—and provide valuable status information back to leadership and the team. These features of group-context-aware apps can reduce the cognitive load on individuals and on the team by providing targeted information, and help coordinate group activities to improve the accuracy and speed with which the team completes its tasks.

The SEI seeks to improve information capture and display for warfighters and first responders using new generations of handheld devices (e.g., smartphones) at the tactical edge, for example, in Afghanistan, in Haiti after the earthquake, or in Japan after the tsunami. We do this by

  • extending the use of contextual data from individual context (e.g., an individual's location) to group context, leveraging information such as missions, tasks, and roles 
  • making the display of information adaptive to the user's and the group's context, such as displaying friend/foe location data when warfighters are on a combat mission, or food and water availability data to first responders helping survivors of a natural disaster
  • using individual and group context to optimize resources—including battery, CPU, and bandwidth—by distributing tasks performed on the group's devices in an intelligent way. For example, in a squad of 10 warfighters in close proximity, not everyone will need to use GPS for positioning, thus saving the batteries on other mobile devices with GPS turned off.
  • reducing the cognitive load on warfighters. Interviews with troops who have been in the field and in combat have made clear that operating a mobile device is easy in normal conditions but difficult and rarely done while under fire. Using sensors—including vibration, audio, video, and heart rate and blood pressure monitors—mobile devices can sense environmental conditions with little or no interaction by the warfighters and first responders, allowing them to focus on the task of staying alive and completing their missions.

The architectural Ideas behind this capability are being adapted for use in advanced, human-wearable combat systems incorporating multiple biometric, environment, and situational awareness sensors and heads-up display.

Read about related research.