Griffiss project eyes advances

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Scanning hours of surveillance video for signs of movements by enemy convoys.

Supercomputers that use less electricity than a light bulb and are smaller than a cell phone.

Helping a fighter-jet pilot make quick decisions in the cockpit. Keeping military command software up to date and impossible to hack.

These are some of the computing problems tackled regularly at the Air Force Research Laboratory, also known as the Rome Lab, behind the tall chain-link barrier at the former air base now known as the Griffiss Business and Technology Park.

As soon as next spring, though, some of that work might also be done outside the fence, at a new set of labs being built inside a former air force building to host private-sector and academic researchers in collaboration with defense personnel.

Labeled the Open Innovation Campus, the project announced Monday is a collaboration of Oneida County, the owner of the airport; SUNY Polytechnic Institute, which is expanding its research and education in emerging areas of computer science; the Air Force Research Laboratory Information Directorate, also known as Rome Lab; and the Griffiss Institute, which facilitates turning Rome Lab research into commercial applications.

It will consist of about 40,000 square feet of labs, offices and meeting space, along with space to house the next generation of computers.

It’s planned for the center core between the two vast hangars of Building 100 at Griffiss International Airport on the grounds of the former Air Force base in Rome.

Security concerns are a barrier to collaboration in the main AFRL building itself, but the
center will allow collaboration outside, explained deputy
director Michael Hayduk.

“The world is flat, and there’s a lot of great technology to be developed outside the U.S., and to be able to reach some of those partners is a great opportunity for us,” Hayduk said.
“It’s not just the facility itself, but it’s this whole business model, a new way of us doing business, to be able to move outside our fence to engage with partners we haven’t been able to easily engage with before.”

Oneida County is contributing $5.6 million from bond issues toward the project, and Empire State Development and the New York State Department of Transportation Aviation Bureau are providing $1.4 million and $1.5 million respectively, according to county officials. Additional funding will also come from Griffiss Institute, the non-profit organization set up in 2002 to commercialize Rome Lab research.

The organizations involved announced the plan at a news conference at the site Monday morning. Construction is scheduled to begin this fall with completion in March or April.
County funding is coming from bond issues. After the base was closed, the county was given most of the former base property. Much of it is now occupied by private-sector companies, many commercializing AFRL research, and the county’s general-aviation airport. The vast hangars at building 100 are also used as indoor test ranges for drones, and that work is likely to continue, Hayduk and county officials said.

“It continues to build upon what we will be known for as the years go by: a technology hub in central New York, in Oneida County right here in Rome,” Oneida County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. said in the announcement press conference Monday.

SUNY Poly interim President Grace Wang noted that the Utica campus recently hosted a workshop of quantum information researchers and scientists from 14 countries, but the new center will help make such collaborations more common, she said.

“With this open innovation campus we can attract all the top scientists and engineers from the Air Force Research Lab, from SUNY campuses, from our key partners across the world in industry, academic, in government so that we can work together on these game-changing technologies and accelerate these technologies into the marketplace.”
The command center for drone testing now in use at Griffiss will remain, though in a different location in the building.

The center core of building 100 is already being gutted to make way for the conversion. According to Hayduk, the bottom floor will have labs for quantum computers, which store data at the subatomic level and require precise temperature and humidity control. The upper floors will have offices, an auditorium, and open work spaces linked by high-end wireless networking for researchers and engineers to collaborate in.

Other work may involve neuromorphic computing, an emerging technology intended to mimic the way the human brain operates. Such machines can sort through enormous amounts of data very efficiently, opening up new uses for the military and civilians.

“If you think of the human brain, it’s really like the perfect supercomputer: it only consumes 20 watts of power .. so it’s less than a light bulb,” Hayduk said. “It can multitask, it can be trained it can remember things you learned. You can forget things, things that aren’t as important anymore; you can retrain and relearn. Computer architectures aren’t made that way. But if we can now operate them to be that way and operate more like the human brain, it’s going to pay a lot of dividends for us.”

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