WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- A new, web-based software tool developed by AFRL researchers is poised to usher in a new paradigm in information management and sharing.
Recording, sharing, and accessing research data within the scientific community is typically an imperfect proposition, at best. Data management has been surprisingly stovepiped, with different research entities managing their data in different ways. AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate researcher Matt Jacobsen recognized this problem and looked to solve it.
He and his research team developed and trademarked HyperThought, a software-based solution to help researchers collect, archive, search, and share data seamlessly.
HyperThought is the underlying software behind the web-based Integrated Collaborative Environment, or ICE, the data management tool deployed to great success within the AFRL Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. Jacobsen described HyperThought as a “total collaborative platform for the faster collection of scientific data and discovery of information.” He said this web-based tool can be implemented in virtually any scientific, commercial, or educational research environment and can usually be up and running in a matter of an hour or two.
Utilized by an increasing number of teams within AFRL, HyperThought has proven to be a boon to researchers, even in its infancy. The system automatically collects data from processes, equipment, and repositories; keeps a running record; stores and categorizes the information; and allows researchers to easily log in and see what’s happening in real time.
“It provides a complete research pedigree,” said Jacobsen, “It’s a digital estate where researchers can find files and data easily throughout the life of their project.”
Researchers can also share their own unique data through the platform as well as access the scientific data from an ever-growing number of research entities from within the Department of Defense as well as industry and academia. Jacobsen is quick to point out, however, that users have total control over their data. If information is proprietary or not releasable under DoD regulations, it can be protected by the user and remain completely secure.
“With every single record you create, you can define who sees it, when they see it, and who they have to be in order to even ask for it,” he said.
Jacobsen describes the development of HyperThought as a labor of love. Around four years ago, he was part of a team that began by looking at commercial software solutions for database management. Finding the existing software inadequate for their needs, he then switched to an in-house development plan that would allow them more freedom to leverage risk and strategically take on the task. Using this approach, Jacobsen designed his own software “layer” that would serve to connect various systems so that they could “talk” to each other. Thus began HyperThought.
“This project wouldn't be where it is today without the knowledge and insight of our team members, and our directorate leadership was very supportive the whole way. They backed us and gave us the freedom and resources necessary to create a great product, and it all came together.” Jacobsen said.
As he and his team matured HyperThought, the time came to test it in a working environment. After successfully incorporating it into a number of technical programs within the Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Jacobsen integrated HyperThought into the AFRL Maker Hub, the newly-formed makerspace and off-base project collaboration area.
“The Maker Hub has been a great sandbox for us,” said Jacobsen. He said Maker Hub provided a great opportunity to assess and expand HyperThought’s capabilities in a dynamic and growing maker environment.
Jacobsen has worked with Emily Fehrman Cory, Maker Hub Director, to integrate HyperThought into nearly every aspect of the space. The system is used for many essential functional tasks, including to schedule equipment and log utilization rates, keep track of raw materials, store calibration data, and gather work output, to name only a few. Additionally, HyperThought has been incorporated into Maker Hub’s proximity-based user management system, allowing users to log in, access their own data, look into their training records, and take self-directed equipment training as needed.
“HyperThought is at the core of everything we do at the Maker Hub,” said Fehrman Cory. “It fosters our collaborative culture. I'm excited to be able to provide the Maker Hub environment as a testbed and to help facilitate its expansion into the off-base community.”
HyperThought was integrated into a number of user communities outside the Department of Defense in 2016, including the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Michigan. But Jacobsen has no plans to stop there.
His lofty goals for HyperThought in the coming year include deploying the system to three national labs, and at least a dozen different organizations overall.
“Getting in to more commercial entities is a big goal for us. This platform is highly extensible, and the more users we get onboard, the better the product is,” said Jacobsen. “We will also be working with other technical directorates within AFRL who have expressed interest in integrating HyperThought into their own lab environments.” Additionally, he continues to work toward making the platform accessible to more users throughout the DoD.
Additional short term goals for Jacobsen and his team include hosting a Dayton “Hackathon,” an event in which programmers, software designers, subject matter experts, and other like-minded enthusiasts come together to collaborate and develop new functionality. He believes events such as these offer the best opportunities for new and fresh approaches.
Jacobsen said the philosophy behind HyperThought is breaking down barriers to information.
“My big thing is knocking down the walls. I get so tired of people saying ‘you can’t do this.’ We want to collaborate. We want more people and groups to generate more usage. The more people that use the system, the better feedback we get, and the system improves,” he said.
Because HyperThought introduces a new way of thinking, particularly in the government sector, Jacobsen said it could be a big step toward a new era of sharing knowledge and information.
“The design really works and we’re leading the charge at this point,” he said.