The US National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) recently released its 2020 Technology Focus Area report, which provides its current and future needs and ways for innovative commercial players to work with the agency. The NGA is the leader in geospatial intelligence (GEOINT) and supports the U.S. intelligence community and the Department of Defense. It is one of the largest buyers of commercial satellite data and analytics. In addition, NGA provides its needs list to In-Q-Tel, the Intelligence Community’s venture arm, to help guide its funding decisions.

We attended the USGIF’s (US Geospatial Intelligence Foundation) video-conference with NGA on its Tech Focus and strategy. The panel discussed what NGA looks for from commercial partners to drive AI/ML integration and road map for the future of GEOINT. The five tech focus areas are as follows:  

Data Management: With the explosion of data from different sensors and platforms, timely and agile integration of modern data management at scale is critical to GEOINT. The holy grail of data management is interoperability enabling rapid insights in multi-domain, multi-source environments.  The analyst needs to rapidly understand what data exist, aggregate and process data sources from multiple domains (space-based satellites, airborne platforms, maritime vessels, open source and etc.) to be ready for AI/ML. NGA wants more commercial data, but it can only work with trusted sources and needs transparency into the entire data supply chain. 

Advanced Analytics and Modeling: NGA seeks to improve GEOINT speed, accuracy and reliability in an increasingly complex world. It is evolving its capability to adopt AI and incorporate all data sets to monitor and track potential threats and assessing emerging issues. It looks for user friendly geospatial web services that feed insights and integrates into their existing workflow. At the same time, it is investing in advanced analytical and visualization capabilities such as augmented and virtual reality systems and 3D gaming objects to enable the synthesis of different information.

Artificial Intelligence: NGA has received many ideas on how to implement AI, achieving a certain level of confidence on the output with computer vision on automating object detection, classification and feature extraction. However, it is seeking novel approaches to have a higher level of confidence in AI and understanding of the output under varying conditions. It is looking for ways to combine non-imaging sources (radio frequency, natural language, automatic tracking system data) with traditional geospatial data to contextualize change.

Modern Software Engineering: NGA is investing in robust development platform, continuous integration/delivery processes and security. The modern development practices facilitate unclassified collaboration by enabling teams to rapidly build, test and deploy capabilities as well as use of open-source software.

Future of Work: The future of work at NGA requires more human and machine collaboration. This is done by acquiring tools that enable secure and real-time collaboration across the organization using open-source data. NGA looks to implement tools to automate specific workflows and support work with multi-dimensional data.

What does this mean for startups? Innovative companies interested in collaborating with NGA can learn more about opportunities through Broad Agency Announcements (BAA), Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR), Innovative GEOINT Application Provider Program or participate in competitions such as NGA, SpaceNet Challenge. See NGA's report for more details. 

Moreover, the 2020 focus area will be used in NGA evaluations of SBIR contracts through partnership with the Air Force’s SBIR Open Topics solicitation. This is a new acquisition tool managed by AFWERX (AF Innovation hub) to accelerate prototyping and commercialization of promising new technologies.