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Air Force technology poised to dramatically improve civilian emergency management operations

  • Published
  • By Joe Cogliano, AFRL Small Business Directorate, and Mindy Cooper, Air Force Technology Transfer Program

WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio – Behind the scenes at a training exercise several years ago, researchers from the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) asked air combat commanders to outline their biggest challenges.


By far, commanders expressed the most concern over confusion caused by large amounts of radio traffic. During intense operations, many voice transmissions prompted a request to repeat and much of what was said simply got lost.


Envisioning an opportunity, researchers went back to the 711th Human Performance Wing at AFRL to take a closer look at how the human mind processes information and why voice communications become garbled in a headset. That spawned work on a software tool to capture and organize voice communications, which has since been patented by AFRL as multi-modal communication (MMC) spatial audio separation and visual transcription.


“The biggest problem with emergency management is the confusion as messages get mixed, messages step on each other,” said Bob Lee, who served as a branch chief at AFRL during the initial development of MMC and is currently open innovation project manager at Wright Brothers Institute in Dayton, Ohio. “Spatially separating them allows you to get back to a natural interface. Critical information is more likely to be found.”


While still being evaluated for Air Force use, MMC is now positioned to improve emergency management operations in the civilian world as Dayton-based GlobalFlyte signed a Patent License Agreement (PLA) for the technology earlier this year. PLAs are used by the Air Force Technology Transfer Program to ensure that Air Force science and technology is shared with state and local governments, academia and industry.


GlobalFlyte, an emergency management technology startup, plans to build a business around MMC by combining it with other technologies to provide a tool for better incident response management.


“The MMC will dramatically change the incident commander’s ability to process large amount of radio traffic,” said Tim Shaw, chief operating officer of GlobalFlyte. “This is something that needs to be done because the job is so hard in a crisis. Having a better comprehension of information will result in making better decisions that save lives.”


Based on his operations experience during a more than 20-year FBI career, Shaw believes MMC could make an immediate impact on the emergency management industry. When combined by GlobalFlyte with other technologies, the benefits will include transcription in near real-time; pinpointing the location of transmissions on a map; the ability to create an alert for keywords; and the flexibility to use anywhere from a car to a command center.


Shaw expects GlobalFlyte to release a beta product in the first quarter of 2017 to early adopters. The company recently attracted a $100,000 Ohio Third Frontier grant for additional development work.


The science behind MMC


AFRL researchers designed MMC as a network-centric communication management suite to capture, record and display both radio and chat communications so operators have instant access to all current and past information. It employs virtual audio display technology to separate multiple signals, providing a balance between the speed of radio traffic and the accuracy and data capturing capabilities of chat displays.


GlobalFlyte has an exclusive PLA for the MMC technology within the field of emergency response for state and local governments. Exclusive PLA’s ensure that only one company has rights to an Air Force technology in a particular field.


In addition to the PLA, GlobalFlyte also signed a five-year Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) with the Air Force. The CRADA allows the Air Force and GlobalFlyte to conduct joint research into advanced group communication and examine the military/civilian interactions in joint emergency responses or humanitarian scenarios.


Additionally, both parties will be collaborating on the effectiveness of joint group communication systems with non-native speakers of English and non-English speakers by collecting, analyzing, sharing and exchanging information from large-scale exercises. 


“CRADAs provide a great opportunity for both parties to leverage each other’s knowledge and expertise to further develop the technology. It’s not just additive, it often has a multiplying affect advancing the technology by factors of two or three times,” said Air Force Technology Transfer Program Manager Keith Quinn.


A pathway to commercialization


Tec^Edge Ventures,  a joint venture between Wright Brothers Institute and SPGlobal Inc., helped launch GlobalFlyte.


Wright Brothers Institute is an AFRL partnership intermediary designed to support collaboration and technology transfer while SPGlobal brings technology and implementation experience to the table.  Companies spawned from Tec^Edge Ventures put money back into the organization to help sustain its process for commercializing AFRL technology.


AFRL – headquartered at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio – manages a multi-billion dollar science and technology portfolio to address specific needs, but also is required to meet technology transfer benchmarks.


William “Bill" Harrison, director of the Small Business Directorate at AFRL, said GlobalFlyte is a prime example of a newer, more aggressive strategy for getting Air Force intellectual property into the market. Commercialization typically spurs faster development of technology – allowing it to permeate society for the greater good – while potentially adding features and lowering future costs for the Air Force.


Additionally, commercialization helps fuel the economy by driving job growth.