UMass Amherst Computer Scientists Play Prominent Role in $25 Million Army Research Grant

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Contact: Janet Lathrop

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Left to right, computer science researchers Ben Marlin, Prashant Shenoy, Donald Towsley and Deepak Ganesan

AMHERST, Mass. –A team of computer science researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, part of a four-institution consortium, have been awarded $4.5 million by the Army Research Labs (ARL) to develop the scientific foundations of a next-generation Internet of Battlefield Things (IoBT) that is intended to enable new, predictive battlefield analytics and services.

The first $25 million in funding is to the four institutions and covers the first five years of a potential 10-year effort, says Prashant Shenoy, the technical lead for the IoBT’s distributed processing and analytics area. He says that over 10 years, the ARL is expected to provide $67.6 million of funding to the IoBT consortium, making the award one of the largest federal research investments ever into “Internet of Things” technologies. UMass Amherst has $4.5 million for five years; a total $9 million is expected but not currently awarded for the second five years. 

Shenoy explains that in the future, military operations will rely less on human soldiers and more on interconnected technology, using advancements in unmanned systems and machine intelligence to achieve superior defense capabilities. The IoBT will connect soldiers with smart technology in armor, radios, weapons and other objects to give troops extra sensory perception, offer situational understanding, give fighters prediction powers, provide better risk assessment and develop shared intuitions.

The researchers say the intent is that on the battlefields of tomorrow, humans and technology will work together in a seamless, cohesive network, giving soldiers a competitive edge and keeping troops and civilians safer.

Michael Malone, UMass Amherst’s vice chancellor for research and engagement, says, “This is a terrific collaboration of top institutions that will greatly expand the opportunities for innovation and impact, not only in the envisioned applications, but I am sure in areas that no one has yet imagined.

In addition to Shenoy, computer scientists Deepak Ganesan, Benjamin Marlin and Don Towsley of UMass Amherst’s College of Information and Computer Sciences (CICS) will contribute the campus’s world leadership in computer networking and machine learning to the project, which will also involve the campus’s Institute for Applied Life Sciences for research in wearable sensors and mobile health sensing in battlefield scenarios.

Dean Laura Haas of CICS says, “The IoBTresearch showcases our college’s long-time strengths in artificial intelligence and computer networking research. Four of our highly-regarded faculty members will use their combined expertise to develop methods that will safeguard data and lives on and off the battlefield.”

Shenoy says, “The award will involve a deep collaboration between ARL and the academic and industry researchers. By conducting basic research into topics such as adversarial machine learning and robust networking, we hope to significantly advance the state of the art in smart battlefield services.”

He adds that increasing cyberattacks have made IoT devices particularly vulnerable. Similar to the early Internet, which was designed for military applications and then found widespread civilian use, this research meant for battlefield applications is also likely to lead to wider advances in making future civilian IoT technologies more secure and robust to cyberthreats.

Stephen Russell, ARL’s Battlefield Information Processing Branch chief and the government lead of the alliance, says, “While commercial IoTs provide some of this capability, they are not challenged in the same manner as on the battlefield. The ‘B’ in the IoBT is a key focus.”

In addition to UMass Amherst, the interdisciplinary Alliance for IoBT Research on Evolving Intelligent Goal-driven Networks (IoBT REIGN)involvesfour lead universities,the University of Illinois, the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of Southern California. Other alliance partners include Carnegie Mellon University, SRI Internationaland the University of California, Berkeley.

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