Pushing technology limits

Rommie Hardy (left), Theron Trout (center) and Kelvin Marcus (right) integrate and trouble-shoot software code during the Network Science Research Laboratory Hackathon held at the U.S. Army Research Laboratory's Adelphi Laboratory Center. | U.S. Army photo by Jhi Scott.

Army, industry computer scientists gather for ‘hackathon’

ADELPHI, Md.— Researchers from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory’s Network Science Collaborative Technology Alliance recently held the first Network Science Research Laboratory Hackathon at the Adelphi Laboratory Center.

Hackathons are proving grounds for innovative ideas and designed to bring a group of computer programmers together to collaboratively code in an extreme manner over a short period of time. The goal is to tap into the problem-solving minds of participating developers who push the limits of technology while working on a particular project.

The purpose of the NSRL Hackathon was to integrate applications that represent the NSCTA’s multi-layered components in such a way to push data points from a communication emulator called Extendable Mobile Ad-hoc Network Emulator, or EMANE, to a social/cognitive network component called Virtual Battlespace 3, or VBS3, and a scalable role/group/goal-based traffic pattern simulator capable of reactive behaviors called AlgoLink.

Tasks were performed by members of the NSCTA experimentation team as an approach to analyze the calculation of path loss and how this loss affects communication in the VBS3 application.

Lisa Scott of ARL’s Tactical Network Assurance Branch coordinated and led the two-day event where a total of nine researchers from ARL and industry partners, ArtisTech Inc. and BBN Technologies, came together to resolve network science issues related to software tools, programs and interfaces created by the team.

Scott discussed why she decided to adopt the hackathon concept and how the collaboration of visionary concepts could lead to actionable solutions.

“This alliance of government, industry and academic partners is funded by ARL to understand the commonalities among the social, information and communication networks in a military relevant context. Understanding these networks allows us to analyze, predict, design and influence these complex systems.”

Throughout the hackathon, the team used VBS3, a simulation platform used by the U.S. Army, to create scenarios for training. Scott explained the approach and how it served to complete integration tasks.

“Since VBS3 is a gaming platform, there is potential to have real participants or simulated avatars in the game that will respond to different manipulations of information and communication network parameters. That said, we can now run multiple experiments with difference manipulations so that we can measure the effects these manipulations will have on the overall mission performance.”

“The integration of VBS3 and EMANE will enable communication effects to be modeled in the gaming environment. This will enable network science experiments that explore how communication effects or influence interactions with soldiers and mission accomplishments during small unit operations,” Scott added.

A vast variety of disciplines were involved in the hackathon to include Networking, Computer Science and Computer Engineering and Statics.

According to Scott, there’s an openness and innovation for new capabilities and ideas for building an infrastructure to test the ideas using an experimental infrastructure that is also housed in the NSRL.

The event was the first step to developing and implementing future multi-genre experiments and served as an exemplar to do additional Hackathons with other NSCTA and ARL researchers. When discussing the event’s significance, Scott noted experimentation as a key to innovation within ARL and the benefits of utilizing a facility specifically dedicated to exploring network science challenges.

“Running experiments in the Network Science space allowed us to understand and predict how the communication, information and the social-cognitive layers work together holistically and how one layer affects the performance and actions of the other layers in the tactical arena.”

The Hackathon culminated with the team successfully completing the given set of tasks while addressing unexpected technical challengers. “This event also served as an exemplar to do additional Hackathons with other NSCTA and ARL researchers,” Scott said.

The NSCTA experimentation team members include Scott, Kelvin Marcus, Theron Trout, Rommie Hardy and Trevor Cook from ARL; Will Dron and Scott Rager from BBN Technologies; and John Hancock and Matt Aguirre from ArtisTech Inc.

Events like the NSRL Hackathon support ARL’s Open Campus Initiative of building an ecosystem and capabilities for researchers to collaborate and solve current and future Army challenges in a cutting-edge network science space.

By Tracie R. Dean, Army Research Laboratory