A computer freeze-up in the office is a hassle. In a fighter jet peppered with enemy fire, it’s a matter of life and death.
Getting the increasingly large and complex systems people have come to rely on to interface and interact without shutting down has been the focus of Doug Schmidt’s career. As part of a recent Air Force grant, an engineering school team led by Schmidt will help develop a system to link war fighters seamlessly to the Global Information Grid.
Schmidt, professor of computer science and associate chair of the department, and his team are part of a $2.8 million grant to develop a system that will allow soldiers to access information they need no matter where they are or in what circumstances, and regardless of their connection device and available bandwidth.
The funding comes from the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory. BBN Technologies, an advanced technology firm that was one of the original pioneers of the Internet, is the lead contractor for a team that, in addition to Vanderbilt, includes Boeing and the Institute for Human Machine Cognition.
The Air Force has asked the team to create technological improvements that, for example, would allow a convoy traveling through a hostile city to immediately access information–from historical data to up-to-the-minute traffic details for the planned route. Even a stalled truck along the road could create a life-threatening situation for the soldiers, so the need to access data and make rapid changes using all available technology is critical.
The prototype system under development for the Air Force, called Quality of Service Enabled Dissemination, not only would help improve the quality of complex systems but also increase tolerance for disruptions to ensure that troops in tactical situations get the information they need on time and intact.
Schmidt has spent his career developing ways to test the increasingly complex systems–many of which were developed separately–that have become integral to so many facets of modern life. He has focused on testing these large systems in a sort of simulated technological wind tunnel in order to get all the complex parts to talk to each other. The Air Force grant funds one of four such projects Schmidt is leading at Vanderbilt.
The software tools and platforms developed at Vanderbilt are designed to empower pilots, fighters and their commanders to communicate with each other seamlessly. The software harnesses the powers of the Global Information Grid, which includes all communications networks, from the Internet to cell phones to satellite communication to land lines.
“One of the great things about complexity is that we can now build things that are so big, we can’t test them using conventional techniques and tools,” says Schmidt. “But the more we become reliant on these systems, the more we need to become more certain they’re going to work. Our role is to make sure they work as advertised.”
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