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ECE faculty receive a $1.5 million Department of Defense grant to study opportunistic sensing

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By Megan Kelly, Coordinated Science Lab
December 14, 2009

  • ECE Profs. Thomas Huang, Mark Hasegawa-Johnson, and Tamer Başar have been awarded a grant to study opportunistic sensing.
  • The goal of the research is to push opportunistic sensing systems to continuously optimize their performance.
  • This research may help in developing Future Combat Systems and Network Centric Warfare.

Thomas S. Huang
Thomas S. Huang

The Army Research Laboratory of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has allotted ECE Professors Thomas S. Huang, Mark Allan Hasegawa-Johnson, and Tamer Basar $1,446,800 spread over 5 years to study opportunistic sensing.

This is one of the DoD’s Multiple University Research Initiatives (MURI).

“We were very excited to learn we received this grant because opportunistic sensing is an interesting topic that really could use collaboration among people with different expertise,” Huang said. Huang is also a researcher in the Coordinated Science Lab, as are Hasegawa-Johnson and Başar.

The Illinois team is part of a consortium that is led by ECE ILLINOIS alumnus and Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk (PhD ’92) and that includes researchers from the University of Maryland, UCLA, Yale University and Duke University. The total grant for the consortium exceeds $5,000,000 for the five years. 

Mark Allan Hasegawa-Johnson
Mark Allan Hasegawa-Johnson

The broad aim of the project is to tackle automatic target recognition tasks that use a network of both coordinated and mobile platforms carrying diverse modality sensors. The goal of the research is to push opportunistic sensing systems to “continuously optimize their performance by intelligently exploiting massive amounts of sensor data in addition to their ability to navigate and coordinate their sensing assets,” according to the project’s Web site.

Huang said the group is specifically studying DoD surveillance monitors, which capture stationary or moving targets using different sensors either mounted on an unmanned aerial vehicle or on an unmanned ground vehicle. These monitors come equipped with a visual video camera, acoustic sensors and multiple sensors with multiple modality.

“The problem is this method of capturing surveillance produces too much data and is time consuming to look through,” Huang said. “The broad goal of our project is to find ways to more efficiently optimize and compress the important information, while minimizing the unnecessary, which will save time and money.”

Researchers believe opportunistic sensing research will effectively utilize limited resources for multiple mission objectives, create computational efficiency that fuses only necessary data, and make a flexible yet strong structure adaptive to operational scenarios and environments.

Tamer  Basar
Tamer Basar

“We hope to develop a series of algorithms to extract information from multi-modality in an optimal way, in terms of resources, such as time and power, required,” Huang said.

If the faculty involved succeed, their research may assist in the development of Future Combat Systems and Network Centric Warfare. Future Combat Systems was the U.S. Army’s principal modernization program from 2003 to 2009, and Network Centric Warfare is a new military doctrine that seeks to gain an information advantage into competitive warfighting through networking of well-informed geographically dispersed forces. Their success may also help the military improve situation awareness, increase lethality and survivability of advanced weapon systems, incorporate information integration for command and control, and further develop network science.

Their research potentially will apply to civilian uses, including homeland security, facility protection, and environment monitoring.

Editor's note: media inquiries should be directed to Brad Petersen, Director of Communications, at or (217) 244-6376.

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