Sensor System Engineering Insights on Improving Human Cognition and Communication

Brian M. Pierce, Raytheon Company

The improvement of human cognition and communication can benefit from insights provided by top-down systems engineering used by Raytheon and other aerospace and defense companies to design and develop their products. Systems engineering is fundamental to the successful realization of complex systems such as multifunction radar sensors for high performance aircraft or the Army's Objective Force Warrior concept for the dismounted soldier. Systems engineering is very adept at exploring a wide trade space with many solutions that involve a multitude of technologies. Thus, when challenged by the theme of the workshop to evaluate and explore convergent technologies (nanoscience and nanotechnology, biotechnology and biomedicine, information technology, and cognitive science) for improving human cognition and communication, it was natural to start with a top-down systems engineering approach.

One of the first questions to be asked is what is meant by improvement. In sensor systems engineering, improvement covers a wide range of issues such as performance, cost, power and cooling, weight and volume, reliability, and supportability. The ranking of these issues depends on the mission for the system in question and on the sensor platform. For example, a surveillance radar system on an aircraft has much more emphasis on the power and cooling issues than does a ground-based radar system.

Improvement has many facets in the context of the Army's Objective Force Warrior system for the dismounted soldier: enhanced fightability without impeding movement or action; minimal weight; efficient, reliable, and safe power; integratability; graceful degradation; trainability; minimal and easy maintenance (ultra-reliability); minimal logistics footprint; interoperability; and affordability. The prioritization of these requirements could change depending on whether the warrior is based on space, airborne, surface ship, or undersea platforms. Ideally, the adaptability of the system is high enough to cover a wide range of missions and platforms, but issues like cost can constrain this goal.

Improvement is a relative term, and improvement objectives in the case of human cognition depend on the definition of the baseline system to be improved, e.g., healthy versus injured brain. Furthermore, does one focus solely on cognition in the waking conscious state, or is the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleeping conscious state also included? Although recent memory, attention, orientation, self-

reflective awareness, insight, and judgment are impaired in the REM sleep state, J. Allen Hobson suggests that this state may be the most creative one, in which the chaotic, spontaneous recombination of cognitive elements produces novel configurations of new information resulting in new ideas (Hobson 1999).

Improvement objectives for human communication include enhancements in a) communication equipment external to the individual, e.g., smaller, lighter cell phones operable over more frequencies at lower power b) information transfer between equipment and individual, i.e., through human-machine interface c) communication and cognitive capabilities internal to the individual, e.g., communication outside of the normal frequency bands for human vision and hearing.

If one reviews the evolution of cognitive and communication enhancement for the dismounted soldier during the last several decades, improvements in equipment external to the soldier and the human-machine interface predominate. For example, Raytheon is developing uncooled infrared imagers for enhanced night vision, a tactical visualization module to enable the visualization of a tactical situation by providing realtime video, imagery, maps, floor plans, and "fly-through" video on demand, and GPS and antenna systems integrated with the helmet or body armor. Other external improvements being developed by the Department of Defense include wearable computers, ballistic and laser eye protection, sensors for detection of chemical and biological warfare agents, and smaller, lighter, and more efficient power sources. Improvements that would be inside the individual have been investigated as well, including a study to enhance night vision by replacing the visual chromophores of the human eye with ones that absorb in the infrared, as well as the use of various drugs to achieve particular states of consciousness.

The convergent technologies of nanoscience and nanotechnology, biotechnology and biomedicine, information technology, and cognitive science have the potential to accelerate evolutionary improvements in cognition and communication external to the individual and the human-machine interface, as well as enable revolutionary improvements internal to the individual. The recent workshop on nanoscience for the soldier identified several potential internal improvements to enhance soldier performance and to increase soldier survivability: molecular internal computer, sensory, and mechanical enhancement, active water reclamation, short-term metabolic enhancement, and regeneration/self-healing (Army Research Laboratory 2001).

The trend in sensor systems is towards the integrated, wide band, multifunction sensor suite, in which processor/computer functions are extended into the sensing elements so that digitization occurs as early as possible in the sensing process. This type of sensor architecture enables a very high degree of adaptability and performance. However, one still has to trade the pros and cons of handling the increasing torrent of bits that results from digitizing closer to the sensor's front-end. For example, the power consumption associated with digitization can be an important consideration for a given platform and mission.

Improvements in human cognition and communication will also follow a path of higher integration and increased functionality. The exciting prospect is that the convergent technologies encompass the three major improvement paths: external, human-machine interface, and internal. This breadth should make it possible to pursue a more complete system solution to a particular need. If better night vision is desired, the convergent technologies could make it possible to trade a biological/chemical approach of modifying the photoreceptors in the eye, a micro/nano-optoelectronic imager external to the eye, or a hybrid of the two. Memory enhancement is an important element of improving human cognition, and perhaps convergent technologies could be used to build on work that reports using external electrical stimulation (Jiang, Racine, and Turnbull 1997) or infusion of nerve growth factor (Frick et al. 1997) to improve/restore memory in aged rats.

Sensor systems have benefited enormously from architectures inspired by the understanding of human cognition and communication. The possibility exists for sensor system engineering to return the favor by working in concert with the convergent technologies of nanoscience and nanotechnology, biotechnology and biomedicine, information technology, and cognitive science.

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