A technical report enunciates the concept of a hierarchy of sensor classes (meaning transducers, associated circuitry, and embedded software) that have different levels of intelligence, and discusses issues pertaining to the development of sensors of the highest level of intelligence, called cognitive. The other levels, in order of decreasing intelligence, belong to the class of intelligent or smart sensors. A design process and an intelligence hierarchy which enables construction of intelligence-based sensors has been developed based on five main qualities:

  1. self-knowledge — the sensor must identify its purpose and understand its operational functions;
  2. communication — the sensor must be capable of transmitting/receiving information (versus raw data) to/from other devices;
  3. perception — the sensor must have the ability to recognize, interpret, and understand sensory stimuli;
  4. reasoning — the sensor must be capable of making decisions based on perception of sensory stimuli; and
  5. 5. cognition — the sensor’s intellectual process must subscribe to the process of knowing, which includes aspects such as awareness, perception, reasoning, and judgement.

The report discusses hardware and software of a cognitive sensor in general and, more specifically, of sensors for use in planetary exploration. A generic process for designing the hardware and software of a cognitive sensor is described. Specific instances are described for the examples of (1) an optoelectronic sensor that recognizes a moving object and includes a camera that tracks the object and (2) a similar optoelectronic sensor that recognizes rocky terrain, determines the safest path across the terrain on the basis of the sizes and distribution of rocks, and aims the camera along this path.

This work was done by Ayanna Howard and Edward Tunstel of Caltech for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. To obtain a copy of the paper, “Cognitive Sensor Technology,” access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at www.nasatech.com/tsp under the Electronic Components and Systems category. NPO-30283


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This article first appeared in the April, 2002 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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