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Ohio State part of $7.5M DOD award to explore military 'data freshness'

As it turns out, even information has a “use by” date.

Wireless data hurtles around us in real time. Devices must channel it, process it, decide what we see first; even safeguard it from cyber-attack. In a military setting, speed and reliability become even more imperative. Intelligence may be outdated within milliseconds.

Atilla Eryilmaz in officeElectrical and Computer Engineering Professor Atilla Eryilmaz is part of a multi-university team that just won a highly competitive five-year $7.5 million Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) grant from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The goal is to help explore this theoretical concept known as “data freshness,” through their proposal, “Science of Tracking, Control, and Optimization of Information Latency for Dynamic Cyber-Physical Military Systems.”

Collectively, the group also includes Principal Investigator Jeffrey H. Reed, Tom Hou, Wenjing Lou, and Walid Saad of Virginia Tech, and MIT's Lizhong Zheng.

According to ONR, the MURI outlines the engineering concept called “network science,” a collaborative realm of research demanding the broad-base expertise of scientists from wireless networks, information theory, signal processing and game theory to optimization, mathematics, physics, computer science and security.

Eryilmaz said their work applies to a wide net of wireless technologies related to the Internet of Things (IoT), cyberphysical systems, and next-generation communication platforms. Military IoT applications could involve smart sensors for automated security screening, security camers or collecting data from aircraft and ground vehicles. 

“This is a project where communication and control coalesce. You have this large-scale distributed system, spread over a space, aiming to achieve a collective goal," he said. "Without knowing each other’s state, distributed devices have to decide to send their dynamic information through a shared channel. It’s about managing information more than anything, because data keeps evolving at these distributed devices, and it needs to be communicated, but there are only so many resources for it."

This project aims to answer the following questions: Which information is most urgent? Which is the most valuable? What are the fundamental limits of achieving the freshest information and how is that accomplished? Is the information still useful when it is communicated? 

“How do you, on the fly, determine what’s most important in a distributed fashion?” Eryilmaz said.

The collaborative MURI project is theoretical in nature, he said, but specifically applies to autonomous devices in a military setting. 

As with any IoT technology under development, Eryilmaz said, cybersecurity aspects must be fully investigated as well. Blocking those trying to trick the system is essential.

According to Forbes, the unprecedented security challenges of the Internet-connected devices are likely to grow as their numbers potentially balloon to over 50 billion next year.

For the fiscal 2019 competition, the Army Research Office, the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the Office of Naval Research solicited proposals in 24 areas important to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and the military services. From a merit-based review of the 295 proposals received, a panel of experts narrowed the proposals to a subset from which the 24 final awards were selected. 

“The challenges we face today are highly complex in nature and do not fall in line with a single discipline,” said Dr. Mitch Nikolich, director of Defense Research and Engineering for Research and Technology. “MURIs acknowledge these complexities by supporting teams whose members have diverse sets of expertise as well as creative and different approaches to tackling problems.”

based on story by Ryan Horns, ECE/IMR Communications Specialist