military swat team

Good SPORTS: Improving Tactical Team Performance with Athlete-Inspired Analysis

MITRE evolved athlete-tracking technology and analysis techniques to enable impactful human performance evaluations. The resulting Squad Performance Optimization Using Real-Time Sensing—or SPORTS—aims to optimize readiness for military and law enforcement operations.

What do the NFL and the U.S. military have in common? How about the NBA and the FBI?

These organizations all rely on human performance to complete their missions. That could be the quarterback getting the ball to a receiver downfield, or a tactical unit clearing a building in an urban district.

Even in vastly different settings, human performance factors remain consistent, from reaction time and speed to physical location and orientation. And improving performance is big—even groundbreaking—business.

“A revolution is taking place in measuring human performance during dynamic activities,” says biomedical engineer Anthony Santago, who leads a MITRE research project in this area.

Take the athletics industry’s multi-billion-dollar investment in improving performance. Real-time player tracking tools produce quantitative data subjective assessments can’t deliver. They help athletes consider things like: Does my pose impact the success of my pass? How does my location on the court affect my shot?

Two MITRE researchers recognized an opportunity to build on existing capabilities—and move the stakes from putting a score on the board to saving lives in the field.

We’re raising powerful possibilities for a data ecosystem that integrates AI to improve human performance in certain applications.

Brian Colder, Ph.D., principal neuroscientist

Under our independent R&D program, we developed Squad Performance Optimization Using Real-Time Sensing, a.k.a. SPORTS. Santago and co-principal investigator Brian Colder led a team of experts in artificial intelligence, data analysis, neuroscience, and biomedical engineering to harness athlete tracking technology and couple it with emerging advances in analysis and AI/machine learning.

Developed in partnership with the Departments of Defense and Justice, SPORTS aims to foster safe and effective training, optimize performance, and ultimately help tactical teams achieve success in real-world operations.

Collaboration in Real-Time for the Most Useful Results

The research effort drew on MITRE’s experience as operator of the National Security Engineering Center and the Homeland Security Systems Engineering and Development Institute™, as well as MITRE Labs expertise in emerging technology.

Our team leveraged athlete-movement concepts and added mission-focused objective analytics. This allows military and law enforcement units to consider domain-specific questions: Do certain body movements correlate with a hit or missed gunshot? Does an operator’s stance affect how quickly a team clears a contested area?

We also established the first-ever operationally relevant collection and analysis infrastructure to support this capability. SPORTS’ real-time tracking and playback functions take in and synchronize information from multiple data streams. The data includes high-resolution operator location via radio frequency identification tags, video, and biometrics such as heart rate and eye movement tracking.

The innovation could catalyze the “revolution” of measuring human performance across a wider range of fields than ever before.

Santago is excited to see how the prototype evolves. “I'm especially interested in what young operators have to say about SPORTS—the ones who’ve grown up inundated with data in their lives. We want to hear what questions they would ask that nobody’s thought of before.”

Rising Above Technical and Environmental Limitations

To adapt the technology for government applications, the research team overcame several limitations in commercially available player-tracking tools.

“Athletic environments are structured. A football field will always be 100 yards long and 60 yards wide, with fans watching the game,” Santago explains. “Military and law enforcement work in very different environments. They’re not intended to be watched or located. They encounter unpredictable threats. We had to tailor our system for those dynamic environments.”

Collaborating with operators during actual exercises allowed us to iterate quickly and refine the prototype to get the most-useful results. For instance, SPORTS makes data immediately available after training, to foster understanding of team performance and readiness.

It can help tactical units decide: What route should we take? How should we be spaced out? What’s the best standard operating procedure for a given scenario?

It can also inform training-design decisions, as well as strategies to improve health outcomes for operators. Our team expects these early successes to multiply.

“We developed and successfully demonstrated this unique capability,” Colder says. “Now we want to share it for the broadest impact possible.”

That means moving toward transferring the technology to industry to benefit the public good.

“SPORTS could enable the U.S. to improve capabilities across a variety of fields,” Colder adds. “We’re raising powerful possibilities for a data ecosystem that integrates AI to improve human performance in certain applications.”

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