When you think of Boeing, geospatial technology may not be the first thing that comes to mind. But Boeing has over 600 employees in its intelligence systems division and geospatial is a core competency. Don Vance, director of Boeing’s Geospatial Programs, and Per Beith, director of Boeing’s Information Security Solutions, talked about Boeing’s expertise in providing solutions to the NGA and the rest of the intelligence community with Directions Magazine’s editor in chief, Joe Francica.
Directions Magazine (DM): Boeing touches many facets of GEOINT. Can you tell me about the size of your geospatial workforce, the type of skill sets it encompasses, and whether Boeing sees a transition to its mission given the downsizing of the federal budget and a move to more commercial versus military applications?
Don Vance (DV): Boeing has specific expertise and technologies that enable geospatial intelligence in an integrated, multi-intelligence, multi-domain environment through collection planning, big data content management, advanced analytic processing and secure information sharing. Our geospatial workforce is part of a business area dedicated to intelligence systems with about 645 employees versed in everything from intelligence and geospatial analytics to systems and software engineering. The National System for Geospatial Intelligence (NSG) has traditionally been a target market for our business, which includes customers from the intelligence community (IC), military, foreign governments, commercial industry and academia. As an organization, we’re constantly re-evaluating our mission to meet the evolving needs of our customers.
DM: One of the mission objectives of Boeing is to offer an “Immersive Analytical Environment” similar to what NGA Director Letitia Long discussed. What does this look like? Are you building a platform that allows the user to step into a simulated immersive environment or utilize augmented reality technology that would provide heads-up displays, etc.? And would this be a customized solution using Boeing technology or “off-the-shelf” solutions?
DV: We’re exploring new capabilities that leverage Boeing’s profound history in modeling and simulation, and directly relate to the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency’s “future state” for analytic immersion. To that end, Boeing’s Immersive Analytics Platform combines proven commercial offerings with cutting-edge research to provide an enterprise-level, collaborative platform that is interoperable with U.S. government and commercial geo-databases and services. Our virtual operations center at GEOINT2013* [the GEOINT Symposium was held in April 2014] demonstrated this intelligence integration by bringing analysts across the community into an immersive analytic environment to “live within the data” and collaborate.
DM: For what kinds of applications are you processing synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imagery files? High resolution digital elevation models? Your press statements give the impression that you are capturing and processing these data in near real time to provide “actionable information.” True?
DV: Boeing’s Agility Web Services is a suite of processing algorithms that rapidly processes, visualizes and interacts with synthetic aperture radar image data. Designed for interactive analysis capabilities in network environments with low-bandwidth and/or high-latency, the system overcomes obstacles caused by very large sensor data files and is adapted from the proven Boeing Agility SARlab product. The system features analyst-driven data compression, advanced data streaming and tiling techniques, use of parallel processing and graphic processing units (GPUs), and a flexible client-server paradigm that can be extended to cloud and computing architectures.
DM: Has Boeing considered addressing the Cyber-Location Nexus? What technology can Boeing offer to support the NGA’s mission of combating cyber attacks in a geospatial domain?
Per Beith: Cyber attacks threaten both network and physical domains. In today’s operational environment, the physical world is networked together creating the need for cybersecurity considerations. Our approach to cybersecurity starts with understanding and addressing vulnerabilities from the people, process and technology perspectives. In-depth understanding of how these elements work together is critical to understanding how to implement integrated solutions to protect against network and physical (including human) threats to mission or operational success. Boeing has also developed technologies to enhance operational resiliency in the face of disruptive events whether man-made, like cyber attacks, or natural disasters.
DM: In your press statement you state: “Boeing’s Geospatial Production Cloud brings big-data processing power to generate fit-for-use data, while DataMaster with our new Gviz viewer provides a unified, online integrated intelligence view of the world.” Is Boeing building a proprietary GIS platform in an SaaS environment? If not, please explain in more depth this solution.
DV: The Geospatial Production Cloud (GPC) is growing out of research and development efforts to automate internal geospatial production workflows at Boeing. The GPC optimizes and computes the need for geospatial data in an efficient, low cost, commodity hardware environment configured for massive parallel processing. We integrated existing proven technologies, such as Boeing’s DataMaster, into a cloud environment, and coupled them with next-generation, browser-based visualization tools (GViz) using HTML5 technology. These capabilities have been operationalized for a variety of data production tasks such as producing digital elevation models, orthorectifing and mosaicking images, and vector collection, editing and maintenance. We are considering a variety of options, and our final approach will be based on discussions with customers and, ultimately, what the market dictates.
DM: Boeing addresses activity-based intelligence with tools that suggest business and location analytics. What software solutions are you using to accomplish “real-time collaborative analysis through the persistent querying of streaming and stored data”? Are you using off-the-shelf BI software or a customized solution? Are the data that are being streamed from real-time imagery, as in full motion video from UAVs, or some other data type?
DV: Boeing’s approach to activity-based intelligence (ABI) offers our national security community in-depth capabilities to collect, process, analyze and act on information with a level of speed, precision, accuracy and coordination that was previously unavailable. Through engagement with NGA, and the broader intelligence community, we have delivered Government Off-the-Shelf (GOTS) and Commercial Off-the-Shelf (COTS) capabilities to capture and process location-based content, analyze the content using a framework of adaptable applications, and deliver information to operators in the form and format required to advance the mission. The construction of our contributions is unique to specific user needs. Additionally, Boeing’s TAC solution allows an analyst to search thousands of data stores, layers and clouds with one simple user interface.
DM: Is Boeing looking outside the intelligence communityand therefore considering offering its solutions to commercial industries such as in the finance or retail sectors?
DV: Boeing always looks at opportunities both inside and outside the intelligence community. We typically start with opportunities in adjacent federal or international markets where we have differentiated capabilities and expand to other sectors, including commercial industry and international markets.
Image courtesy of Boeing