Intelligence: The All Seeing Eyes and Computers


July 12, 2006: No one is sure who started carrying vidcams on patrols, and then reviewing the video later, looking for things that might have been missed. Most likely it was either some Special Forces guy, or a former SOCOM type working private security in Iraq. The concept predated Iraq, in the form of the "lipstick cam" (a video cam the size of a lipstick) that was worn by skiers, mountain bikers and the like, to record their thrilling heroics for later viewing. One intrepid journalist convinced at least one soldier to wear a lipstick cam during the 2003 advance on Baghdad. Now the U.S. Department of Defense wants to take the concept further. This has turned into ASSIST (Advanced Soldier Sensor Information System and Technology). This project is testing a wide variety of sensors that soldiers in action, especially patrols, can just wear. The images and sound collected from the vidcams would not just be recorded, but, with a powerful enough wi-fi network and computers to process the data, the troops would get quick (near-instant in some cases) feedback. The computers could be located elsewhere, either back at headquarters, or, via satellite link, back in the United States. This sort of "reach-back" has been used for several years already. Most Predator UAVs flying over Iraq and Afghanistan, are piloted by people stationed at an airbase back in the United States.
The computer assisted analysis of video and sound data is also nothing new, although it's only in the last decade that these theoretical capabilities have been turned into practical results. Tests in the past year have shown that this combination of wearable sensors and computer processing is practical. But it is expected to take until the end of the decade before a system is available for troop use.
Initially, ASSIST would be used to record useful data while troops are on patrol, or in combat. Each ASSIST sensor (basically a lipstick cam type unit) would include GPS and accelerometer (measuring movement). Thus if there was any contact with the enemy, there would be, like with the "black box" in aircraft, a record of who was where and how fast they were moving. Data on what patterns of movement mean what can first be obtained from training exercises. The computer would have a database of typical reactions of troops to different situations, enabling the software to alert commanders immediately when critical events occur (an IED going off, or other type of ambush).
The possibilities for a system like this are enormous. While many of the ideas, currently being tossed around, may not turn out to be practical, or useful, in actual use, many will. The original idea, of just sticking a vidcam on the dashboard for patrols, or while transporting people, proved very useful. Looking at those videos later often revealed vulnerabilities, or even enemy preparations for an attack. You can always miss stuff like that while zipping down the highway. But with the replay button at hand, that happens much less often.
ASSIST, like so many other high-tech systems, will probably enter service bit-by-bit. In effect, it was there when troops began using the vidcams. The crucial innovation with ASSIST is capturing the data on a computer, analyzing it, sending instant alerts to the troops, and building a database that would, over time, reveal patterns of enemy activity, or mistakes the friendlies are making.


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