Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence Marks 25 Years

9/25/2006 - 51-06r
Contact: Public Affairs Office, (202) 767-2541

The Navy Center for Applied Research in Artificial Intelligence (NCARAI) at the Naval Research Laboratory celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. Established in 1981 to solve problems related to a growing volume of complex information and the increasing complexity of Navy weapons systems, NCARAI is the leading AI research and development center in the Department of Defense. NCARAI is part of NRL's Information Technology Division and in October 1991, was designated a Joint Directors of Laboratories (JDL) Center for Excellence in Machine Learning.

To commemorate this milestone anniversary, NCARAI hosted a day-long symposium on September 19 featuring plenary speakers Patrick H. Winston, Ford Professor of Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Matthew T. Mason, Director, Robotics Institute, and Professor, Computer Science and Robotics, Carnegie Mellon University. Former NCARAI directors Jude Franklin, Randall Shumaker and Alan Meyrowitz also spoke.

NCARAI Director, Alan Schultz notes, "For 25 years, we have covered a broad range of research ranging from basic to applied artificial intelligence. This anniversary was an appropriate time to bring together influential members in the field of AI, along with those who helped create and staff the AI Center and who brought NCARAI to international prominence. It was an occasion to look at the past of AI, the current state of the field and what AI may bring to the world in the future."

Since its inception, NCARAI has pioneered research in areas such as expert systems, machine learning, natural language understanding, intelligent decision aids, computer vision, virtual environments and training, immersive simulation, and robotics. In the mid-1990's NRL's Human Computer Interaction Laboratory merged into the AI Center to leverage overlapping interests in human-centered research projects.

Examples of NCARAI's transitions to the fleet, government and/or industry include autonomous ship classification tools; AI-based diagnostic tools for electronics equipment; a genetic algorithm learning system that automates the process of creating or "learning" behaviors, and allows systems to adapt to changes in the environment; computational cognitive models of spatial perspective-taking; an interactive decision-aid tool for problem solving; a method for rapidly recognizing surface shapes in range images, which can be used to train assembly-line robots to perform tasks with unprecedented precision; a multi-media education system for aircrew coordination training; an audio alerting technology for use in the Aegis combat system; and new tools to facilitate weather forecasting for Navy meteorologists, including environmental visualization web services that provide tactical forecast products for the theater.

Current NCARAI research focuses on understanding the design and operation of computer systems that improve performance based on experience; efficient and effective interaction with other systems and with humans; sensor-based control of autonomous activity; and the integration of varieties of reasoning to support complex decision-making. NCARAI emphasizes the link between theory and application in demonstration projects that use a full spectrum of artificial intelligence techniques.

The group of approximately 50 scientists and engineers comprises four sections and laboratory facilities:

  • the Immersive Simulation Section, which performs advanced research in the design, development, and testing of novel user interaction techniques and interfaces. The current research focus is to develop a user interface for a three-dimensional fully immersive system that allows people to employ their whole body in a natural manner as they interact within the virtual environment (VE);
  • the Intelligent Systems Section, which performs state-of-the-art research in machine learning, intelligent autonomous systems, intelligent decision aids, robotics, and software and hardware for sensing and perception. Applications include autonomous vehicles, lessons-learned systems, and decision aids for military planning systems.
  • the Intelligent M4 (Multimodal/Multimedia) Systems Section, which is concerned with enhancing and developing computer interfaces in human-machine dialogs. The group is specifically interested in linking natural language interfaces to other modes of computer interaction, such as touch-screen and graphical modes of human-machine interactions; and
  • the Interface Design and Evaluation (IDE) Section, which performs interdisciplinary human-computer interaction (HCI) research. Two themes are present in these research projects: human system integration and audio interfaces. The group is exploring technologies for augmented audio for the soldier, ways to enhance the performance of multi-display workstation operators, and ways to improve the use of audio in sonar systems, and
  • the Warfighter Human System Integration (WHSIL) Lab, where virtual environment training systems and technologies have been integrated to allow Marines to train for Military Operations in Urban Terrain (MOUT) missions without having to travel long distances to receive specialized training.

Through the years, NCARAI research has been sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Office of Naval Research, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Army Research Office, the Department of Energy and others.

NCARAI may be found on the web at

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