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Emerging and Disruptive Technologies
MITRE's role is often to look ahead in areas of science and technology and figure out how new ideas may solve our sponsors' problems—both today's and tomorrow's. Our Emerging and Disruptive Technologies Office nurtures programs in technology areas not traditionally part of MITRE's work, in order to apply that increased understanding to the practical challenges of our sponsors. Some of these areas of study may result from new intersections of existing technology, such as biology, information technology, and systems engineering. After MITRE's staff has become experienced with a new technology, it becomes a working solutions base for our sponsors. Previous emerging technologies that have become disciplines for solving problems include robotics and photonics.
MITRE's scientists are combining their expertise in biotechnology with information technology for applications in security, national intelligence, and defense projects. We're using our expertise in systems engineering, bio-surveillance, and modeling and simulation to improve biosecurity capabilities. Moreover, when work delves into biological and neuroscience informatics, the science behind these projects can also be used to solve a variety of problems that are not necessarily biological—such as understanding human performance, searching through large databases, or improving the organizational structure of a government agency. By combining several of MITRE's areas of expertise, we can provide our government sponsors with workable solutions.
With the increasing threat of bio-terrorism, biosecurity is becoming increasingly important to Department of Defense (DoD) missions and the health of our nation. For instance, if the health and safety of Americans are threatened by a harmful biological agent—either a naturally occurring illness, such as avian influenza, or a contaminant released by terrorists—the government will need to mobilize a response likely to be unprecedented in its scope and impact. Efforts to coordinate a biosecurity response plan across agencies (including the Department of Health and Human Services and its Centers for Disease Control division, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the DoD, among others) are still evolving. MITRE is assembling a team of researchers and analysts to advise on and support implementation plans for securing the nation against harmful "bioevents" of all types. We hope to produce a practical model for the collection and analysis of critical biosecurity information. Timely and accurate identification and dissemination of data will enable faster deployment of an effective, targeted response. MITRE is also engaged in evolving the global intelligence plans to more quickly identify outbreaks of natural and man-made harmful biological agents in remote areas and in nations where the U.S. lacks direct diplomatic ties.
MITRE's biosecurity research also extends into other areas, such as data mining techniques for brain mapping to detection tools for pathogens in water supplies and airplane cabins. In one program, we are helping Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) develop an information processing architecture for intelligent machines using the human brain as a model. For example, the goal of the Biologically Inspired Computer Architectures program is to develop a neuroscience-based information processing architecture for intelligent machines that would be capable of solving some of the DoDís most challenging problems.
The biosecurity domain also includes biometrics systems, which are automated methods that use a physiological or a behavioral characteristic to either identify a person or authenticate a person's claimed identity. Retina, iris, and fingerprint scans are examples of biometrics that are used to authenticate a claimed identity.
In addition to our biotechnology and biosecurity expertise, MITRE is a leader in the field of nanotechnology—the science of the extremely small. Since 1992, MITRE's Nanosystems Group has been performing broadly based research and development (R&D) in nanotechnology.
The Nanosystems Group's efforts in nanotechnology focus on systems engineering that starts at the tiny molecular scale and builds up from there. Its work includes the development of systems such as nanoelectronic computers, nano-enabled power systems, nanosensors, and millimeter-scale robots. The resulting insights are typically used to offer wide-ranging assistance to the U.S. government's nanotechnology efforts. This assistance includes collaboration with officials in planning major nanotechnology R&D programs, as well as in tackling key technical tasks on the path to program success—e.g., the simulation, design, and physical testing of nanotechnology-enabled system prototypes. The group recently had a breakthrough—published in the international physics journal Physical Review A—revealing that rules much like those from traditional, classical physics govern key goings-on in the "nano world" of atoms and molecules.
Additionally, much of the group's research in the area of nanosensors also requires expertise in biology. Other research areas include nano-enabled energy storage systems, carbon nanotube separation, and nanoelectronic projects. And when biotechnology and nanotechnology are combined to solve critical problems, our researchers have access to state-of-the-art facilities at MITRE's Biotechnology and Nanotechnology Lab on our campus at McLean, Virginia.
Neurotechnology is the application of neuroscience research methods and insights to solving critical problems in areas such as image understanding, artificial intelligence, human-computer interface, deception detection, and human performance modification. We have a number of research efforts underway, including several projects with external academic partners. One recent effort involved using transcranial magnetic stimulation to understand the neural basis of human social interaction. Another project uses functional magnetic resonance imaging techniques to examine the neural mechanisms underlying human visuo-spatial skills. We are also investigating whether neurocomputational models of the brain's attention and memory systems can guide the development of next-generation visualization tools for command and control systems. Other areas of interest include neurobiologically inspired cognitive architectures, novel neuromorphic hardware, neuroinformatics, and bio-inspired computer vision systems.
The current practice of taking increasingly higher resolution pictures and analyzing them to extract useful information has reached its limits for many applications. Computational imaging overcomes those limits by maximizing useful information that's collected while minimizing resources (volume, weight, power, and time). MITRE is working with other groups to design and optimize front-end optics, detector arrays, and post-detection processing. In engineering optical transfer functions, for example, we are investigating unconventional lens aperture functions to extend depth-of-field, extract spectral information, and enhance spatial resolution of the sensor. These new systems will be particularly useful in robots, unmanned aerial sensors, and unattended sensor networks.
Quantum information science is a relatively new, interdisciplinary field that holds the promise of solving practical problems that would otherwise be impossible. Quantum computers solve certain types of previously intractable computational problems, such as breaking public key encryption systems, as well as a variety of challenging, computationally intensive mathematical problems. A quantum computer uses quantum mechanical phenomena such as the spin of an electron—compared to a conventional computer's binary system of 0's and 1's—to perform operations on data.
MITRE is working to develop the world's first efficient, scalable, fault-tolerant quantum computer design. This work will have significant impact on MITRE's sponsors, as well as the academic and industrial scientific and technology communities. It will provide the basis for technology that will enhance our abilities in code breaking, real-time analysis of frequency-hopped spread-spectrum communications, and other computationally intensive problems.
Current Work Programs
Our work in MITRE's Emerging and Disruptive Technologies mission area includes a range of projects such as:
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Page last updated: April 30, 2012 | Top of page
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