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Julia W. Loftis, Associate Chief for Information Systems Technology

I should say that ASF and peer-to-peer could be used for the same task complimentarily. We can have platforms that are pretty stupid, and a user just instructs them to go to a waypoint. That is all they can do: navigate there. We could also have some platforms that are very intelligent, and a user can instruct them to find something, and they will go off and find it. We can have various levels of intelligence, but at the moment, all of our platforms communicate though us and don’t communicate directly to each other. We don’t prevent that, but ASF’s strength is in controlling all the platforms.

ASF and peer-to-peer each have their set of challenges. Peer-to-peer may be more challenging in that there is more intelligence required to have an optimized system. Each platform needs to be pretty smart, and ASF is a more basic approach. In some instances, it is going to work better. If you want to integrate legacy platforms that are not intelligent, you are going to need a controller that can take charge and control it in a rudimentary way. The ASF approach is also more deterministic, a little less risky, where we are taking over all these platforms. Peer-to-peer is a more advanced method; each platform is intelligent and acting on its own, and you don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen. There could be interactions you didn’t anticipate.

NTB: How many vehicles can ASF control?

Loftis: There’s no limit, technically. In the case of OASIS, it’s all going to be limited by bandwidth and communications with the boats, and getting the data back. There is no specific limit, and one vision we have is hundreds of these boats up and down the coastline doing coastal monitoring, either for homeland security or for weather, to get subsurface temperature measurements of the water that would improve forecasting accuracy. Potentially, ASF could control hundreds of platforms.

NTB: What commercial applications could there be?

Loftis: We have a lot of ideas along those lines. I really think homeland security, any type of coastal monitoring, of tracking the source of pollutants, EPA applications, certainly NOAA applications in improving hurricane prediction — all those are good applications for the boats. But then, if you look at robotics, any place where a fleet of robots would be better than a single robot, such as search and rescue, or monitoring the safety of bridges and nuclear power plants, monitoring oil spills, those kind of things ASF really gears itself towards an environment that might be changing and it can handle that. We even had an interesting idea that you could manage fleets of people, where the ASF software, instead of directing a robot, could send a text message to a person. If you had 200 volunteers searching through the woods for a lost child, probably each of them is covering the ground that somebody already covered. ASF could be an executive, through GPS, monitoring where everybody had been and could optimize their coverage. It could work.

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