Michael Street: “NATO looks at im­prov­ing how de­fense forces from dif­fer­ent na­tions can work to­gether bet­ter”

“NATO looks at im­prov­ing how de­fense forces from dif­fer­ent na­tions can work to­gether bet­ter”

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - In­ter­viewed by Yuriy La­payev

NATO Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­for­ma­tion Agency In­no­va­tion Man­ager on NATO Hackathons and the fea­tures of the first Ukrainian de­fense hackathon

The Ukrainian Week dis­cussed the NATO Hackathons and the fea­tures of the first Ukrainian de­fense hackathon with the ad­min­is­tra­tor and also the jury mem­ber, NATO Com­mu­ni­ca­tions and In­for­ma­tion Agency In­no­va­tion Man­ager Michael Street.

What is a NATO TIDE hackathon? What is the pur­pose of NATO hackathons?

– NATO’s TIDE hackathons are led by NATO’s Al­lied Com­mand Trans­for­ma­tion. TIDE stands for Tech­nol­ogy for In­for­ma­tion, De­ci­sion and Ex­e­cu­tion su­pe­ri­or­ity; and the TIDE hackathons are used to stim­u­late in­no­va­tion and trans­for­ma­tion by let­ting some very cre­ative minds demon­strate the po­ten­tial of dis­rup­tive data science, in­for­ma­tion and com­mu­ni­ca­tions tech­nolo­gies. They can ap­ply these tech­nolo­gies in a very free and cre­ative way, to solve some of the NATO chal­lenges of shar­ing in­for­ma­tion and us­ing it to make bet­ter de­ci­sions and more ef­fec­tive ex­e­cu­tion.

Typ­i­cally, NATO sets three chal­lenges for the teams, all based around some fun­da­men­tal NATO aim of col­lec­tive de­fense; usu­ally they fo­cus on chal­lenges of al­low­ing national de­fense forces to co­op­er­ate in a multi­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment, so they could share in­for­ma­tion more read­ily and so be more ef­fec­tive. Teams try to solve one of these chal­lenges by us­ing a com­bi­na­tion of read­ily avail­able tech­nol­ogy, their own cod­ing skills and also bring­ing some cool ideas. The last part is the most im­por­tant and what we ap­pre­ci­ate most. If we look at what kind of peo­ple at­tend the hackathons and par­tic­i­pate in them, most of our teams are stu­dents – mainly from mil­i­tary academies; but we also get teams com­ing from uni­ver­si­ties, gov­ern­ment re­search lab­o­ra­to­ries and from in­dus­try. The teams al­ways have a strong tech­ni­cal back­ground, but they also have a ‘can-do’ at­ti­tude and a pas­sion for solv­ing prob­lems. Most of our hackathon teams are young (or at least they have a young at­ti­tude), this means they bring new ideas and fresh think­ing to prob­lems. They are also very prac­ti­cal, al­ways de­vel­op­ing, test­ing, try­ing out what works and what doesn’t. Only hav­ing one week to cre­ate a con­cept, build it and demon­strate it re­ally fo­cusses their ef­forts. The fi­nal demon­stra­tion is in front of their peers and a judg­ing panel made up of se­nior mil­i­tary of­fi­cers, tech­nol­ogy ex­perts and even a former De­fense Min­is­ter. So you never see any­one look­ing idle dur­ing the hackathon!

Some of the teams are from out­side the de­fense sec­tor, they are from pri­vate com­pa­nies or uni­ver­si­ties as we try to keep po­ten­tial par­tic­i­pa­tion as broad as we can. This is a recog­ni­tion, that to solve these chal­lenges re­ally well you need co­op­er­a­tion be­tween pri­vate and gov­ern­ment sec­tors. Usu­ally it’s a com­bi­na­tion of gov­ern­ment, academia and in­dus­try. That seems to be a very pos­i­tive model.

Who or­ga­nizes NATO Hackathons?

– NATO’s Al­lied Com­mand Trans­for­ma­tion runs the NATO TIDE hackathons. This com­mand has the re­spon­si­bil­ity for look­ing into the fu­ture and mak­ing sure that NATO is pre­pared for it.

NATO’s Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­for­ma­tion Agency pro­vides sig­nif­i­cant sup­port to NATO TIDE hackathons, pro­vid­ing some ‘tech­nol­ogy build­ing blocks’ which the teams can build upon. These build­ing blocks are very sim­i­lar to the sys­tems and ser­vices which NCIA pro­vides to thou­sands of NATO users across 29 na­tions. Staff from both these parts of NATO pro­vide guid­ance and ad­vice to the teams dur­ing the week.

The Ukrainian national hackathon was or­ga­nized by Gen­eral Staff of Ukraine, Gov­ern­ment Of­fice for Euro­pean and Euro-At­lantic In­te­gra­tion and Strat­com Ukraine cen­ter with help of NATO C4ISR Trust Fund.

What is the prac­ti­cal use of NATO hackathons?

– The NATO TIDE hackathons are to get in­no­va­tive tech­nol­ogy which can make a dif­fer­ence into ser­vice much more rapidly than nor­mal.

In NATO hackathons nor­mally we have three dif­fer­ent chal­lenges, which ad­dress three dif­fer­ent prob­lems. In each hackathon we select a win­ning team from each chal­lenge. Those win­ners have a lit­tle bit more time to de­velop their so­lu­tion fur­ther, which could have a pos­i­tive im­pact on the way our de­fense forces co­op­er­ate. One month later, they demon­strate it again to NATO’s TIDE-Sprint com­mu­nity who chose the most promis­ing solutions. The win­ning teams and their de­signs are then fast-tracked to NATO’s CWIX Ex­er­cise. This is an ex­er­cise which fo­cuses on new tech­nol­ogy for de­fense and se­cu­rity so the best hackathon out­puts get tested rig­or­ously against in­no­va­tive tech­nolo­gies which have been de­vel­oped through more con­ven­tional routes. In just a few months we are able to get good ideas of hackathon teams from here and put them into a real ex­er­cise en­vi­ron­ment where they have to con­nect to NATO sys­tems, to national mil­i­tary sys­tems and share real data. This is a very short time, typ­i­cally, in other con­di­tions that could take sev­eral years of de­vel­op­ment. We don’t ex­pect the hackathons to give us dis­rup­tive tech­nolo­gies which are per­fect straight away, but this way suc­cess­ful con­cepts from the hackathon can take a huge short-cut on the path to be­ing put into ser­vice by NATO na­tions. This is an op­por­tu­nity to get very in­no­va­tive ideas to solve our prob­lems and re­fine them very quickly. Plus, we all learn a lot through this de­vel­op­ment; some of the out­puts of our pre­vi­ous hackathons were added to NATO’s Fu­ture Mis­sion Net­work stan­dards which de­fine how tech­nol­ogy lets the NATO and part­ner na­tions in­ter­act and co­op­er­ate – how they con­nect their dif­fer­ent in­for­ma­tion sys­tems to­gether.

What kind of chal­lenges / is­sues are ad­dressed at NATO Hackathons?

– In the past we’ve looked at how to find and share in­for­ma­tion in a multi­na­tional en­vi­ron­ment. This year’s win­ner brought to­gether map data, from NATO geo­graphic sys­tems, from NATO-mem­bers and part­ner na­tions, in­for­ma­tion from sev­eral sources on ac­tiv­ity from friendly forces, hos­tile forces and Aid Agen­cies, and it dis­played it all as aug­mented re­al­ity on a smart­phone to com­man­ders on the field. Some of the ser­vices in­clude IoT weather sen­sors, video streams from drones and other sources and in­for­ma­tion on the lo­ca­tion of friendly forces. This means that when the com­man­der looks at the en­vi­ron­ment around him, the ap­pli­ca­tion, which was built by the win­ning team at the hackathon, is able to pull all this ex­tra in­for­ma­tion from a num­ber of sources and put it on the screen. The ap­pli­ca­tion in­cor­po­rates ad­di­tional ca­pa­bil­i­ties like text chat and ra­dio si­lence sup­port. It gives the com­man­der ex­ten­sive in­for­ma­tion on what is go­ing on, al­low­ing him or her to make bet­ter, more in­formed de­ci­sion.

Another chal­lenge looked at a prob­lem we call a fed­er­ated search. How to search for in­for­ma­tion not only in your own sys­tems, but across the in­for­ma­tion sys­tems of all the NATO and part­ner na­tions. This is quite a chal­lenge due to the se­cu­rity con­straints that we have. As an ex­am­ple — you search for photo on your phone. Now imag­ine try­ing to search for a photo on your phone and all your friends phones and their com­put­ers, where some friends are in other coun­tries and some­times their phones are switched off or have no sig­nal.

IN JUST A FEW MONTHS WE ARE ABLE TO GET GOOD IDEAS OF HACKATHON TEAMS FROM HERE AND PUT THEM INTO A REAL EX­ER­CISE EN­VI­RON­MENT WHERE THEY HAVE TO CON­NECT TO NATO SYS­TEMS, TO NATIONAL MIL­I­TARY SYS­TEMS AND SHARE REAL DATA.

THIS IS A VERY SHORT TIME, TYP­I­CALLY, IN OTHER CON­DI­TIONS THAT COULD TAKE SEV­ERAL YEARS OF DE­VEL­OP­MENT

Now do it us­ing a tiny frac­tion of the data that your phone nor­mally uses. And when you find the im­age you’re look­ing for, ask your friend if you can copy the photo. In a multi­na­tional mil­i­tary en­vi­ron­ment these things are more com­pli­cated and re­quire more thought to try to solve them.

Dur­ing the week of com­pe­ti­tion we add some ex­tra com­pli­ca­tion for the teams to make it more dif­fi­cult and in­ter­est­ing. But also more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the kind of en­vi­ron­ment that de­fense forces reg­u­larly face and have to op­er­ate in. In the last hackathon in Mon­tene­gro, we added some ex­tra spice to the chal­lenge half way through the week, mak­ing their com­mu­ni­ca­tion in­fra­struc­ture less re­li­able and they have to adapt to this. It keeps the teams on their toes.

What are the dif­fer­ences be­tween the Ukrainian and NATO Hackathon?

– They are very sim­i­lar, in the way it is struc­tured, in type of peo­ple in­volved. The main dif­fer­ence is in the chal­lenges. NATO looks at im­prov­ing how de­fense forces from dif­fer­ent na­tions can work to­gether bet­ter – which is very rel­e­vant for NATO. For the Ukrainian national hackathon the chal­lenges are aimed more at ar­eas which rel­e­vant to the coun­try’s de­fense forces. So it is fo­cused more on your national needs. One of the chal­lenges is to find solutions to im­prove com­mu­ni­ca­tions be­tween dif­fer­ent or­ga­ni­za­tions in­volved in Ukraine’s national de­fense and se­cu­rity. Another task is to make in­for­ma­tion shar­ing be­tween in­di­vid­u­als eas­ier, while keep­ing it se­cure, trust­wor­thy, au­tho­rized and re­li­able.

What is the level of Ukraine’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in NATO TIDE Hackathons?

– We’ve been lucky to have sev­eral teams from Ukraine par­tic­i­pate in the last two NATO hackathons. We have a num­ber of very strong Ukrainian teams. They are young, but well ed­u­cated.

They brought a re­ally high level of skill, ded­i­ca­tion and imag­i­na­tion to the chal­lenge. In fact Ukrainian teams have won a prize at ev­ery NATO hackathon so far and their work is taken for­ward. But they brought not only a com­pe­ti­tion, but also good col­lab­o­ra­tion, shar­ing their ideas. They con­trib­ute to the whole hackathon com­mu­nity, rather than just op­er­at­ing as sin­gle iso­lated teams.

Now, the win­ner teams from the Ukraine national hackathon – in­clud­ing the “MITI Hedge­hogs” team from Mil­i­tary In­sti­tute of Telecom­mu­ni­ca­tion and In­for­mat­ics –will join a NATO event in Ber­lin on the fu­ture of the mil­i­tary com­mand post.

IN FACT UKRAINIAN TEAMS HAVE WON A PRIZE AT EV­ERY NATO HACKATHON SO FAR AND THEIR WORK IS TAKEN FOR­WARD.

BUT THEY BROUGHT NOT ONLY A COM­PE­TI­TION, BUT ALSO GOOD COL­LAB­O­RA­TION, SHAR­ING THEIR IDEAS

A fresh per­spec­tive. Haсhka­ton par­tic­i­pants can find a unique cre­ative so­lu­tion to de­fen­sive prob­lems

The next stage. The win­ners of the national de­fense hackathon will take part in the NATO con­fer­ence in Ber­lin

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