Home' Army Acquisition Logistics and Technology Magazine : Army ALT April-June 2016 Contents DETECT AND CONFIRM
v ery year, the U.S . government pours billions of
dollars of taxpayer money into the development of
sensors and sensing technologies. However, while the
government spends lots of money developing "new
and improved" sensing methods, comparatively little attention
is given to developing holistic methods to fuse data from exist-
ing sensors, to achieve results whereby the whole is greater than
the sum of its parts. While there are probably many reasons for
this, it is at least partly because sensors are typically developed to
monitor a single isolated detection thing called an "observable,"
rather than to work in a complementary way with other sensors
to monitor a continuum of observables.
Additionally, people tend to think that sensor fusion is some-
thing that needs complex mathematical formalism (i.e ., it has to
be really hard), so that it can only be successfully accomplished
with lots of brain (and computing) power.
This is contrary to my experience, as I have found sensor fusion
to be innate and practical, something that we humans perform
many times, every day. With this in mind, my goal is to demys-
tify sensor fusion, at least a little. To do this, consider what I call
the "locate and confirm" sensor fusion method, which is one of
the more practical ways that sensor data can be fused to yield
improved detection results.
LOCATE AND CONFIRM
Sensors detect. With simpler sensors, sometimes that's all they
do. Think of a thermometer. It detects temperature. More com-
plex sensors also detect, but because of the more detailed and
complete way that they detect, they can also confirm or rule
out. This is why it is helpful to "fuse" information gathered from
The locate-and-confirm method helps because it can allow
for very low false-alarm rates and because it is fairly simple: It
typically takes only a two-step detection process and some very
basic reasoning methods. In short, one sensor detects, or locates,
something that is not right—an anomaly—and the second sen-
sor confirms a smart guess that can be made either by a person or
a computer, or rules it out. Being able to quickly rule out some-
thing bad and lower the false-alarm rate is just less expensive.
Imagine a mother with her young child. The child appears to be
sick: Is the cause a routine cold or flu, or is it a highly contagious
childhood disease, such as mumps or measles? To find out, the
mom takes her child to the family doctor.
What the doctor will search for are, in terms of sensors, anoma-
lies. Normally the child feels well, but now does not. Detecting
the anomalies will help determine why, and in turn will help
with the diagnosis.
The first step is a routine exam, or scan. For example, the nurse
might take the child's temperature. Is there a fever? The nurse
also might scan the child's ears—are they red or swollen? Is the
child's throat red, sore or swollen?
Even if the answer to each of these questions is yes, that is not
a diagnosis, but the doctor can use these detected anomalies to
come up with a smart guess about why the child is sick.
Like the doctor, a sensor user is trying to find anomalies. For
example, when attempting to detect airborne biological agents, a
sensor might look for an anomaly in the form of an abnormally
large concentration of aerosolized particles, in the particle size
range where they are optimally taken up by the lungs. Similarly,
when attempting to detect buried land mines, you might employ
a sensor that could detect anomalies in the form of buried objects
that are moderately large and have a metallic signature.
Most of the time, anomaly detection is simple, straightforward
and relatively inexpensive. There are frequently anomaly detec-
tors that work well for lots of uses. However, while finding an
anomaly may seem a cheap way of coming to a quick answer, the
anomaly alone is not the answer. For anomaly detection to be
useful in providing the whole picture, the detection process must
set the stage for the user to determine the cause for the anomaly.
If the doctor suspects a throat or ear infection, he or she will try
to confirm that guess—strep throat, maybe—with a throat swab
and culture that then goes to the lab for confirmation— or rule
it out. In the same way, the sensor user wants to be able to figure
out what caused the anomaly.
A SIMPLE, POWERFUL TOOL
Generally, detectors used in the confirmation step of the locate-
and-confirm method are more difficult to find than anomaly
detectors, and more expensive. Also, they can be harder to use,
especially in the circumstances of a military operation. (Simi-
larly, it's easy for the doctor, in his home office, to take the swab
of the child's throat and send it to a lab for confirmation, but
much more difficult if the doctor is working in a remote village
without electricity or a nearby lab.) Still, even with cost and dif-
ficulty, confirmation sensors may be worth it because they can
lower false-alarm rates.
76 Army AL&T Magazine
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