Office of Naval Research

Solicitation For Research Proposals: Tactical Picture Agent


This announcement solicits submission of research proposals for a 5-year research initiative on the topic of intelligent software agents that can dramatically improve future Naval capabilities for achieving common, consistent, coherent Tactical Picture among Naval decision-makers at sea and ashore.


The ability of Naval commanders to conduct effective, coordinated at-sea operations is fundamentally determined by their ability to access and utilize the right information at the right time. Naval commanders need to be able to understand as accurately as possible all important factors regarding their own situation, including but not limited to the disposition of Allied, Neutral, and non-combatant entities, geographical, oceanographic, and meteorological characteristics in the areas of interest, and of course, the disposition of an adversary if one exists. The totality of the information relevant to a Naval commander is referred to as the Tactical Picture. The Navy's objective is to provide commanders with the most accurate, comprehensive, and consistent tactical picture that technology will allow, under the presumption that improved tactical picture will improve the ability of the Navy to conduct operations effectively and efficiently.

Future Naval ships and other platforms will have the capability to draw upon varied and voluminous sources of data that might potentially have relevance to peace-time, crisis, or war-time operations. In addition to conventional sources of tactical information such as Naval text messages and tactical data such as radar and sonar tracks, commanders will have access to the burgeoning "infosphere" of publicly-accessible and proprietary data repositories of weather maps, satellite images, on-line newspapers, intelligence analyses, and newsgroups that the world's interconnected networks are rapidly making available. Future Naval and National surveillance and data acquisition capabilities will be able to collect enormous quantities of information regarding conditions in Naval operational theaters in the open ocean and in the world's littoral zones. This information, together with the vast information resources linked to the world's highly interconnected computer networks, represents a data mining, filtering, and display problem of substantial magnitude. It is not the objective of this initiative to devise the technology for amassing tactical information, but rather to maximize the utility of existing information to Naval commanders.

Long-Term Vision:

A key to effective utilization of the "infosphere" by Naval commanders is to provide them with automated aids able to discover, retrieve, and display information relevant to the operations being conducted by the commander's platform (e.g., ship), regardless of whether the commander is aware of the existence of such information or able to explicitly direct that such information be retrieved from specific sources. Ideally, a smooth, adaptive man-machine interface would facilitate discovery and acquisition of potentially useful information, filter information for relevance and importance in the context of current or projected operations, and then portray the resulting information in a rational and understandable fashion.


There are many technical hurdles to be overcome so as to be able to achieve the long-term vision for Naval Tactical Picture. The premise of this research initiative is that intelligent software agents represent a potentially fruitful approach for addressing problems of discovery, relevance filtering, and display of information relevant to construction of Naval Tactical Picture, and user interactive capability for efficient and effective use of this information.


The Tactical Picture Agent initiative is an anticipated 5-year basic and exploratory research effort intended to foster the development of technology that can eventually dramatically improve tactical picture on-board Naval platforms. Research is needed in the following main areas, which are elaborated below:
  1. Modeling of users and tasks so that intelligent software can decide what to search for and how to integrate search results.
  2. Agents that locate and filter multi-media information appropriate for a particular user and task.
  3. Methods of portraying information that are appropriate for the task and for the environment in which it is carried out.

1. Modeling Users and Tasks

What is important for one task and Naval commander at a given time may be irrelevant to another, and what is important at one time may be irrelevant at another. To be able to filter only the relevant information to present to a user, a model of the role of that person and of the task being carried out is essential. The models are interposed between the user-interface and information sources to filter the available information according to the needs of the task and the user.

Associated with each task or each person is an agent or set of agents. The agents maintain the models and the current state of the task. They are responsible for determining what information is needed at each step of the task. The agents initiate searches, which may be performed by other information filtering agents, to get the information. When information is returned, it must be appropriately combined with other information and displayed to the user. Depending on the task, it may also be necessary to communicate with other agents or users to request or provide information or to collaborate on a task. It then becomes necessary to provide a means of ensuring that the common information and task models are consistent.

2. Information Location and Filtering

Given an explicit or implicit request for information, the purpose of information location and filtering is to select all and only that information that is relevant and reduce it to a manageable and understandable response. Information relevant to a given task is a small subset of the total information in the "infosphere" accessible at any given time. Relevance is also a function of time, in that different items are important depending on the task and conditions in the environment. For Naval Tactical Picture, a wide variety of multi-media information types will be available, including text, pictures, maps, sensor information, etc. This information is likely to be represented in a non-uniform way using a wide range of formats. There will be different costs associated with information from different sources, and some of the sources might be more reliable than others. It is important for intelligent agents that search and retrieve relevant information to do so in a manner that will conserve scarce network bandwidth and processing capabilities.

Because of time constraints and the heterogeneity of the information and of the repositories, it will generally not be possible to perform exhaustive searches throughout the "Naval Internet", and it will most likely be necessary to conduct multiple searches in parallel. This leads to the possibility of multiple agents that cooperate or are loosely coordinated, and conduct separate searches for information. Research is needed into controlling multiple agents, negotiation among agents, maintaining consistency, dealing with cost and reliability issues of information sources, efficiently searching for and transmitting information, minimizing redundancy, and ensuring adequate coverage of the information sources. Agents will operate in a heterogeneous networked environment, with different protocols and database systems, and a wide range of computer systems. This may require research into transportable agents and common database access methods.

3. Portraying the Information

The problem of displaying information to the user is complicated by the wide range of display devices that may be available and the requirement that task execution not be adversely impacted. Multi-media information may be retrieved in many forms, some of which may not be suitable for display on available devices. For example, some devices may be unable to display pictures, while others may not provide audio.

Determining the most appropriate methods of display, translating between one representation and another, and integrating new information with the existing task are all challenging research problems. Both the human-computer interface and the quality of information are important (a good summary badly presented and a bad summary well presented are both of limited value). Research is needed to address the generation of summaries and the determination of how to present them given the available output devices.

Nature of the Research Initiative:

The Tactical Picture Agent initiative is intended to develop demonstrable technology prototypes operating in the context of simulated Naval data sources by the end of 5 years. During the first few years, the intention is to pursue research efforts that concentrate on basic investigations into powerful and novel approaches involving intelligent software agents for discovery, retrieval, filtering, and display of tactical picture information. During the latter years, research efforts will be encouraged to focus on exploratory technology development and demonstration. Researchers will be encouraged to work closely with Naval laboratories in demonstrating their technical concepts. Total funding for this initiative is anticipated to average approximately $3.5M per year. Subject to anticipated funds availability, multiple awards will be made.

Instructions for Proposal Submission:

Basic research and exploratory development proposals that address one or more of the technical issues outlined above are solicited. Proposals from universities, research institutes, corporations, and Government entities with innovative ideas are encouraged. Proposals should not exceed a total of 30 pages, single-spaced, 10-point type. Proposals should follow the General Proposal Preparation instructions found in the ONR Guide to Programs, and should specifically include an executive summary that summarizes the proposed technical approach, a clear description of the specific problem or issues to be researched, a comprehensive description of the novel technical approach being proposed, relationship of the proposed work to other work reported in the literature, previous or on-going related work conducted by the proposer, technical resumes of key investigators, and budget in sufficient detail to permit assessment of proposed costs. Supplementary material such as videotapes or CD-ROMs may be included. Proposals should be prepared with a start date of 1 June 1995 and a period of performance of no longer than 3 years. Five copies of proposals must be submitted in hard-copy format (no faxes or e-mail) to the following address by 1630 hours on Friday, April 7, 1995:
     Office of Naval Research
     ATTN: Tactical Picture ACI
     ONR Code 311
     Ballston Centre Tower 1
     800 N. Quincy St.
     Arlington, VA  22217-5660
Awards under the Tactical Picture Initiative will be made subject to the conditions of ONR's Broad Agency Announcement published in the Commerce Business Daily on 16 June 1994. Technical and administrative questions regarding this research initiative may be directed to Dr. Michael O. Shneier, (703) 696-4303, Prospective proposers should refer to this homepage occasionally to check for clarifications or modifications that may occur before proposals are due.