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Lab News -- May 13, 2005

May 13 , 2005

LabNews 05/13/2005PDF (650KB)

Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff visits Sandia, speaks highly of Labs' antiterrorism technologies

By Bill Murphy

Taking up Sen. Pete Domenici's suggestion that he tour Sandia, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said during a visit to the Labs last Friday that "it turned out to be good advice."

Chertoff spent a half day at the Labs to learn about Sandia's capabilities, and received briefings on several specific Sandia-developed homeland security technologies and programs. The briefings came from new Labs President and Director Tom Hunter, other members of senior management, and several subject matter experts.

Following the briefings, Chertoff, joined by Domenici, Rep. Heather Wilson, and Tom, conducted a half-hour news conference in the Bldg. 810 lobby to talk about the relationship between Sandia and the Department of Homeland Security. Representatives from most of the Albuquerque news media attended.

Chertoff said he was impressed with what he had learned at Sandia and expressed a hope to spend more time at the Labs in the future.

"There is a tremendous contribution [to homeland security] to be made here," he said. He said the energy, the dedication, and the creativity at Sandia "truly are remarkable."

The 21st century challenges in national security, Chertoff said, more and more will be characterized by "asymmetric warfare," conflict in which a much weaker adversary can challenge a much stronger one through the use of such tactics as suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, and other low-tech but lethal technologies.

"This is a set of challenges we haven't had to deal with before," Chertoff said, adding that America's technology is the "added value" that can differentiate it from its asymmetrical adversaries.

Chertoff noted that Sandia had begun addressing many homeland security, counterterrorism, and related issues even before 9/11. The Labs' foresight in tackling those problems before they rose high up on the national radar, he said, "is a tribute to the value of these labs." Chertoff said Sandia and the other national labs, because of their track record of looking at and addressing challenges before they fully materialize, are invaluable in preparing the nation for the wars it may have to fight not just today, but in the future.

Introducing Chertoff, Tom said the secretary had very quickly established himself "as a person in whom we can have great confidence." Domenici, speaking of Chertoff, said that the secretary's sharp mind and probing intellect were on display during the morning briefings. "Sandians will attest that he's quick."

Domenici said he hoped the briefings will help convince the secretary that the Department of Homeland Security doesn't need to "re-invent the wheel" in the matter of research and development. "Today was another way to show [Chertoff] that he has a lot of resources right here. This laboratory is premier; this is first- class."

Chertoff, who noted that he has a long-standing personal affection and regard for Domenici (which Domenici also noted in his own remarks), indicated that he got the message.

"We don't have to re-invent the wheel," he said. "There are tremendous wheels right here and at the other [national] labs." -- Bill Murphy

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Sandia-developed game helps Special Forces learn adaptive thinking, problem solving

By Chris Burroughs

Video games aren't just for kids anymore.

A multiplayer, nonviolent simulation game developed by a team led by Sandia researcher Elaine Raybourn (15241) is being used by members of the US Army Special Forces to hone their skills in adaptive thinking, negotiation and conflict resolution, and leadership in cross-cultural settings.

"This simulation game is the only one of its kind focused on interpersonal and strategic communication in cross-cultural settings," Elaine says. "It's a serious application of technologies that the entertainment industry has spearheaded. The graphics look as compelling as any other video game, but everything else about the simulation suggests that it was carefully designed for discovery learning."

The game -- which Elaine refers to as an Adaptive Thinking and Leadership (ATL) simulation game -- is designed to allow players to discover their strengths and weaknesses in mental agility, cultural awareness, interpersonal adaptability, and communication. By role-playing in a dynamically changing environment, users sharpen their ability to anticipate the consequences of different courses of action to problems that may not have a "right" answer.

Currently people can play the game by themselves on a personal computer or with as many as 14 players on networked computers. Instructors can easily modify scenarios, monitor the play, and jump in and change the direction of the game at any time.

Participants serve as either role-players or spectators. Their tasks vary according to the role. Spectators' tasks involve providing feedback on how well the role-players are doing during the game. Later, when the training game is over, the instructor can lead debriefing sessions via an "after action review" that incorporates the real-time evaluations as well as player statistics and replays of actual events.

The Special Forces turned to Sandia for help after Elaine appeared on a National Public Radio program where she discussed decision-making in stressful environments. One Special Forces officer, who worked in training and doctrine, heard her and came to Sandia to learn more about Elaine's research, and in particular the focus she placed on culture in decision-making.

After presenting a proposal to Special Forces, Elaine was tapped to lead a team to create a simulation game with both single-player and multiplayer scenarios. The game was to be designed to help people improve their skills in critical thinking, problem solving, situational awareness, understanding of novel situations, cross-cultural sense making, and communication.

Elaine, working with a team from Sandia and the Army Game Project directed by the Office of Economic Manpower Analysis at US Military Academy at West Point, developed the game for the Army Special Forces in nine months. Sandia provided the theoretical approach, innovative human performance measurements, and culturally relevant content design.

"Developing a simulation game is truly a collaborative effort requiring many talents," Elaine says. "We're not a game company; that's why we partnered with the Army Game Project, and in particular with its Government Applications Team. We're a national laboratory with expertise in training, simulation experience design, and intercultural communication. By pooling Sandia's expertise and those of our partners, we were able to design a game with scenarios that feel very real."

The ALT game is built on the "America's Army'" video game platform, which is based on the game engine Unreal Tournament 2004 produced by Epic Games (see "Game built on ‘America's Army'" below).

In developing the game, Elaine and team member Michael Senglaub (15301) spent the first few months evaluating the Special Forces training program. It became apparent that an innovative approach to teaching adaptive thinking would enhance their existing training program.

"The requirement for adaptive thinking -- being able to make good decisions on the fly -- is very important to Special Forces," she says. "In fact, Special Forces has been on the forefront in adaptive thinking among US military organizations."

Two aspects of the simulation game make it different from any other video game of which Elaine is aware. It focuses on teaching interpersonal adaptability, negotiation, and communication skills. The game also uses a novel aproach for which a patent has been filed to provide instructional or peer evaluation in real time. Players get feedback immediately about cultural errors they may have committed, for example.

Now that the game is developed and being used, the next steps are to evaluate how well it is working in the classroom, add enhancements, and expand it into different training areas, such as humanitarian assistance.

Elaine says Special Forces began training with the simulation game earlier this year, and so far results have been positive.

"This game is not about violence," Elaine says. "It's about learning to respect and work with other cultures by honoring other people's ways of being and doing. The Special Forces are keen to improve communication skills so that if there is a problem they can talk their way through it. We believe this interpersonal adaptability ultimately saves lives."

Game testers and project support

Justin Basilico, Phil Chamberlin, David Charles, Brian Clark, Kyle Cochrane, Melanie Corn, Sidney Holman, Jonathan McClain, Alan Nanco, Marta Parnall, Tiara Poland, Paul Sanchez, William Stubblefield, Stephen Verzi, Steve Roehrig, Michael
Senglaub, Russell Skocypec, Ronald Trellue, Roger Vesey, John Wagner

Game built on ‘America's Army'

The Adaptive Thinking and Leadership simulation game developed by Elaine Raybourn and her team is built on the Army Game platform, which is based on America's Army, a video game designed to give young people a virtual taste of military life.

The Special Forces game has less action and more adaptive thinking. But the ideas behind the games are similar.

The Army launched America's Army, a series of PC games depicting realistic modern combat situations, three years ago to overwhelming interest. It now has more than five million registered players.

Besides being a source of information for prospective recruits, the game gives non-soldiering types a realistic view of Army life. All scenarios in the game are designed to actively reflect real-life tactics.

According to an official of the America's Army project last year at the E3 gaming trade show, prospective soldiers who contact Army recruiters after playing the game have a better follow-through rate than any other form of advertising or promotion. -- Chris Burroughs

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Sandia's ‘SMART' radiation detection technology is helping thwart terrorists

By Mike Janes

Homeland security experts generally agree that the threat of dirty bombs or other nuclear devices being smuggled into secure venues looms as one of the gravest concerns for those charged with keeping the nation safe from terrorists. Seaports, airports, border patrol stations, even government buildings are among locations that could be vulnerable.

Now, port officials on the East Coast -- with a major assist from Sandia researchers -- are capitalizing on new radiation detection technology that may serve one day as a model for other venues across the country.

Known as SMART -- for Sensor for Measurement and Analysis of Radiation Transients -- the technology uses sodium iodide detectors and special software to distinguish between normally occurring radioactive materials and those that might suggest ill intent.

Currently operational in test-bed mode at one major East Coast port, the technology enhances other detection capabilities in use at the facility and provides inspectors with a much greater level of sensitivity and accuracy, according to Sandia researcher Linda Groves (8114). Even better, SMART may perform just as well in different locales and scenarios where highly discriminatory radiation detection is necessary.

"It can be configured to fit your problem," she says, and in fact was deployed last year during a high-profile political event.

SMART's proprietary software, developed by Sandia researcher Dean Mitchell (5935), is key to the technology's success. The software helps operators easily and accurately identify the isotopes associated with radiological emissions. Most important, Dean and his group have worked to successfully integrate the software with the system's detection equipment and data management scheme, a complex design that enables each component of the system to "talk" to one another and work as a cohesive unit.

The most visible part of the technology is the mobile SMART. One version is on a golf-cart-sized vehicle that performs analysis of suspect vehicles, while the other is mounted on a Jeep. Both are used in concert with hand-held radiation detectors. The mobile SMART, says Linda, is appealing to port officials because of its ease-of-operation, mobility, and accuracy. The vehicle, which is easily accessible and normally travels 1-2 mph during the inspection phase and at higher speeds when necessary, is mounted with equipment that can pinpoint whether the radiation is harmless or dangerous and in need of further scrutiny.

Sandia researcher Kevin Seager (5935) says SMART is deployed as both a primary and secondary detection method for port personnel.

Initially, it is used in conjunction with plastic inspection portals to ensure that the detection methods are reacting in concert with one another and that SMART "sees" the same alarms that the other portals see. Upon an initial alarm (signifying that radiation material has been "sensed" on an outgoing cargo truck), an operator can drive the SMART Cart around the inspection area to further inspect the truck. The SMART Cart enhances the sensing work being conducted with the hand-held detectors.

Sandia researchers, however, acknowledge that SMART technology is far from perfect. Sandia physicist Nathan Hilton (8233) and researchers at other national laboratories are discussing both "active" and "passive" detection to hash out the myriad effectiveness, safety, and cost issues associated with each approach.

"It's a classic trade-off," Nathan says. "Some active detection methods use neutrons or gamma rays to search for shielded radioactive materials, but these interrogating sources are harmful to humans. Passive detection, on the other hand, does not run the same kind of risks, but it might not detect as wide a range of fissionable materials."

Sandia has programs in both active and passive detection (the method used for SMART), Nathan says the ongoing debate within the research community is "good for science" and will likely lead to firmer conclusions in the future.

The Sandia researchers say efforts are under way to commercialize components of the SMART system. A licensing agreement with Thermo Electron Corp., for instance, will make possible the manufacturing of radiation monitoring systems that use advanced radioisotope identification software -- known as FitToDB and PASSBY -- that Sandia developed. (The Thermo Electron agreement was one of 37 successes at all DOE laboratories highlighted in a 2004 annual report to Congress on technology transfer and partnering activities.)

Though the technology's applications are largely limited to defense and homeland security, SMART can function in many ways for any number of potential customers. Getting the system integrated into an earlier point in the shipping line, for instance (rather than waiting until cargo is at the tail end of the inspection process), would be ideal for a shipping company or overseas port authority.

Gene Kallenbach (5935), a project manager in Sandia's systems technologies department, says authorities at other venues are keenly interested in advanced, mobile detection units and are requesting SMART units for their areas.

Other venue authorities may eventually choose to integrate SMART technology with their existing detection technologies, though the program's primary sponsor, the Department of Homeland Security, maintains responsibility for deciding when or if to "shop" the capability to other potential users.

Officials seem pleased with the state of the technology. Gen. Larry D. Welch, chairman of the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Committee, rode in a SMART Cart last year and gave the technology a "thumbs up." Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., toured the Homeland Security Countermeasures Test Bed to view the new, state-of-the-art equipment, noting that "for too long, our ports were sieves."

With the installation of SMART and other detection technology, Schumer said, "we're finally beginning to close the security gap." -- Mike Janes

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