November 12, 2004 —
Meet the 21st century map. The military already has it and the rest of us soon
Decades worth of detailed, accumulated geographical information is now available
to front-line troops in a concentrated, portable, easy-to-use laptop package created
by the USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering.
HeraclesMaps can instantly solve life-and-death tactical questions like, "Help
us find a route from point A to point B where we cannot be observed (or shot at)
by someone at point C."
It can instantly dissect the geography of a city, displaying man-made features
such as buildings, the electrical power grid, railway tracks, roads, pathways
and much more both in map and photographic form. After intensive trials over
a five-year development period, it is now in use by selected units of the U.S.
armed forces in training.
Computer scientist Craig Knoblock of the Viterbi School’s Information Sciences
Institute (ISI) led a team that developed the system working with specialist veteran
Knoblock says that the main challenge was that information "obtained from various
data sources may have different projections, different accuracy levels, and different
inconsistencies. The applications that integrate information from various geospatial
data sources must be able to overcome these inconsistencies accurately, in real-time
and for large regions." HeraclesMaps digests satellite imagery, mapping data,
and allows users to access the full range of the data quickly and intuitively
through an interface that anticipates questions.
"This material had been distributed on multiple CDs that, essentially only specialists
could use," says Knoblock. "HeraclesMaps lets strategic and tactical planners
ask their own questions and get their own answers, on the spot, instantly and
easily, using a portable laptop computer"
According to Knoblock, HeraclesMaps has many potential civilian applications
including an extremely powerful travel planner. The Heracles Project, the parent
of HeraclesMaps, uses a variety of powerful tools including artificial intelligence
agents to extract and dynamically reconfigure information from diverse sources.
Other Heracles applications can potentially add data from online or other sources,
so one might access additional databases to highlight, for example, the cheapest
fuel available, or all-night restaurants serving a specific cuisine.
Knoblock is a senior project leader at ISI and a research associate professor
of computer science. For his work on such agent-driven information collection
and organization systems, Knoblock was this year honored by being elected a fellow
of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence, one of only six researchers
worldwide so honored in 2004.