Students help upgrade Targabot AI

April 21st, 2017

By Doug LeDuc | Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly

Local students are helping a Fort Wayne company provide the world’s best tactical training to members of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Special Operations Command, Homeland Security, Drug Enforcement Administration and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The project started at the beginning of the winter semester in January and the first phase of it will conclude when the semester ends early next month.

Targamite, a Fort Wayne technology research and development company, loaned IPFW’s computer science department one of its Targabot platforms for the research and is making a substantial financial contribution to the university pursuant to a corporate sponsorship agreement with Purdue, in return for the student and faculty help.

Targamite incorporates robotics into its Targabot brand of portable moving target systems to make live-fire training environments more realistic.

The targets already move unpredictably but students in the Analogical Constructivism and Reasoning Lab of Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne are collaborating with Targamite on research to upgrade the artificial intelligence of the Targabots.

“We have implemented some basic AI elements from the beginning just to get the Targabots to operate,” Gary Kaufman, the company’s CEO, said in an email. “They are complex devices making both rotational and linear movements simultaneously. Our software, written by Bob Kniskern, keeps everything from flying apart. And the devices need to do all of this reliably under fire.

“Then you layer in the unpredictability aspects of the code, and you have a device that begins to mimic the human factor. These elements are so challenging and effective that our platform is being adopted by the most elite military and law enforcement units in the world. I believe that the enhancements that we are making will not only uniquely position us as the most advanced tactical training robotics provider anywhere, but also as a leading robotics/AI developer. I also believe that the technology will save lives and support people in many contexts in the future.”

Work in the lab will be led by John Licato, assistant professor of computer science, with the support of the IPFW Information, Analytics, and Visualization Center, which is led by Beomjin Kim, the professor chairing computer science there.

“We see this as just the beginning of a very productive collaboration with Purdue,” Kaufman said in a statement. “Drs. Licato and Kim are incredibly enthusiastic and talented and the students have already been terrific. We’ll be doing a lot together to develop this important technology.”

Students planned to test the AI upgrade at the Muscatatuck Urban Training Center in southern Indiana operated by the Indiana National Guard. Some of the students also developed Targabot simulations for a first-person shooter game environment.

The technology they help Targamite develop will be incorporated into the next generation of Targabots, which will use sensors to collect situation awareness data in the training environment, including trainee position and movement.

AI agents in the robots will analyze the data to come up with responses designed to defeat the trainee. The data will be shared with other robots through a wireless network so they can coordinate responses. Human spotters will assist the networked Targabots.

“The robotic devices will determine when, how and under what circumstances they are being engaged,” Kaufman said in the email. “They will … quickly learn to exploit trainee weaknesses by changing their aggressiveness and evasiveness accordingly. I call this ‘adaptive behavior responsiveness.’

“We are also adding vocalization to the platform. Accordingly, the technology will soon cast aspersions about your mother, in Arabic, sense your weaknesses, and then exploit them. The idea is to as closely as possible replicate a confrontation with multiple adversaries in theatre.”

To add to the level of realism attainable through the AI upgrade, Targamite also is bringing in a top motion picture special effects supervisor to add audio and video to the training environment.

“Both military and law enforcement personnel need to improve rapid threat assessment under stress. The collateral consequences of engaging non-combatants are enormous,” Kaufman said.

“Targabots can be configured as either friendlies or foe. The random presentations of shoot/no shoot targets by the robots, a capability that they already possess, with more nuanced, stimulus-driven behavior once AI is fully-implemented, will substantially improve trainee threat determinations.”

Giving effective attack capabilities to networked robots functioning independently with an AI upgrade would take 15 to 20 years and billions of dollars and is not part of Kaufman’s vision for the technology, he said.

But, Kaufman believes robots of that nature eventually would be able to out-perform human-controlled drones with equal fighting capabilities.

“The limitation would be on-board processing power. It would be a challenge to put ‘Watson’ inside an autonomous, mobile robotic device,” he said. “But NVIDIA and some MIT researchers have been coming up with some very powerful AI-oriented processors that operate in low power environments. Time will tell.”

Kaufman hopes if that kind of technology is ever developed, the development will be led by the United States.