Enabling The Intelligent EDGE: Part 1

28 Jun 2018

By Bill Gellman, Blueforce Development Corporation

Blueforce was founded with the mission to enable organizations to make better decisions faster at what we refer to as the “tactical edge”. The tactical edge is where the rubber meets the road and might be simply defined as the area or areas where the action is happening. With roots in national security, we often think of this in terms of a military area of operations, however, having expanded into public safety and commercial use cases, the reality is that there are diverse iterations of the tactical edge. The tactical edge for an oil company for example might be one or more drilling or pipeline sites. In firefighting, the tactical edge is the fire scene. Regardless of what the tactical edge looks like, there are consistencies in what is needed for an operational organization to make well informed decisions quickly. And ‘quickly’ is very important at the edge because things move fast, and information can be highly perishable meaning that it loses value rapidly if not integrated into the decision making process.

Often, from a technology standpoint, speed at the edge is thought of in terms of processing speed and network. These are hardware factors and they are very important. Processing data at the edge, which garners much mindshare in the IoT conversation, is in fact critical when dealing with highly perishable data inputs to decision especially where networks can be unreliable or bandwidth constrained. We maintain that powerful edge processing is often necessary but not sufficient in and of itself for enabling optimal decision making capability at the edge. There are software factors that are equally important. Decision making at the edge can be broken into three categories: human decision making, machine decision making, and what might be referred to as hybrid human-machine decision making.

The Blueforce stack has been designed explicitly to enable all three and though there are differences, all three share similar requirements. Most fundamental is that for any type of informed decision to be made, the decision maker, whether human or machine must quickly receive the perishable relevant information in a format that is suited for easy assimilation into the decision making process. While simple in concept, execution can be difficult, especially when dealing with the IoT which is where we live. The edge is not a nice clean laboratory environment. From a technology standpoint there are often diverse systems including sensors, analytics packages (machine learning or other), and other platforms from different manufacturers using myriad data formats and protocols. Furthermore, all are using different data exfil pathways. We routinely see 3G/4G/LTE, WiFi, radio, hardwire and satellite to name a few. While perhaps useful individually, the real power is harnessed by making these data streams interoperable which Blueforce accomplishes through its plug-in architecture using an open protocol. When disparate data streams are interoperable, they can be fused and fused information can be correlated and analyzed quickly and efficiently producing information that is digestible, and more valuable than if the streams are processed individually.

While fused data streams are a good start, that information needs to get to the correct decision maker, and the Blueforce stack is designed to mediate those pathways and ensure that the decision maker gets the relevant data it needs. The concept of relevant is important here because whether talking about a human decision maker or a machine, there can be such a thing as too much data, especially at the edge. Compute power at the edge is not infinite, and is often constrained as is network. Network is a precious commodity at the edge not to be squandered with unnecessary traffic. It is crucial not to assume that every decision maker should get every piece of data. Proper mediation of data flows is central to good edge decision making. The Blueforce stack enables on-the-fly mediation of data to ensure that data gets to where it is needed and not to where it isn’t.

Because the edge is messy, it is imperative to enable a real-time capability to adjust data flows. In fact, it may not be known beforehand which decision makers are going to be present in an operation at the edge, what assets are going to be available or even where an operation is going to be taking place. This necessitates what we refer to as enabling “speed of swarm”, the concept being that there must be an ability to rapidly form functional networked teams of humans and machines, identify available assets, and get data flowing to decision makers in seconds or minutes and just as quickly be able to modify, adjust, and tear down these teams as required.

The edge is not static, the edge can be highly chaotic and technology deployed at the edge must be designed and/or adopted with a critical eye always on this reality. What works well in a laboratory is not always going to work well at the edge. At Blueforce, we are wholly dedicated to the creation of secure, robust software that enables those organizations operating at the tactical edge to have an operational advantage. We are in a period of rapid technological change, and there are new sensors and analytics capabilities coming on-line almost daily. Our goal is to ensure that those devices and capabilities can be harnessed where they matter most, to impact operations at the edge, where things change the quickest and the stakes are the highest.

This is the first installment of what will be a series on our blog. Please check back for follow-on installments as we delve deeper into the enablement of the technological edge. If interested in learning more, please email us at info@blueforcedev.com or call us at 866-960-0204.