Cervus Defence and the Art of Training Data Exploitation
Sometimes there are exhibition booths that just beg the question – what are you doing here? Not because they are badly designed, not because their offerings are poorly presented or supported – but simply because the subject matter comes at you out of left field. Another visual display innovation or an augmented reality maintenance training solution is one thing: a stand deciated to the exploitation of training data is quite another. Yet Cervus Defence and Security, whose booth at ITEC 2018 in Stuttgart this week does just that – has found itself inundated with requests for further explanation and briefings.
MONCh is arranging to visit the UK-based company’s premises in the near future to more fully understand the why and how of what is making their offering so attractive. It is already evident, on even the most cursory discussion with Alan Roan, the company’s Managing Director, that some entities, perhaps more intellectually curious than others, have already “got it” and that others are not far off dipping their feet in the water. That can only be good for a fledgling company (established 2013) that is seeking to expand as rapidly as possible into a space not that well populated by the majors. Not to put too fine a point on it – the collection, evaluation and analysis of training data can be done by entities large and small – it does seem, though, that turning it into concrete action is more easily achieved by smaller, agile and passionate entities. Cervus Defence fits all three of those categories.
What can a company like Cervus do for a military training authority? Just about anything that authority requires in the field of analysis, to be frank. That is not to suggest that ‘small is beautiful and therefore far more capable than anybody else.’ Far from it. A cold, clinical look – however brief at this stage – at the company’s ability to derive pragmatic conclusions and recommendations from vast volumes of data reveals some powerful ideas. For example – without any covert attempt at racial or regional stereotyping – there are certain underlying truths that can fundamentally change attitudes to the mix of characters and capabilities in an infantry squad, Mr. Roan told MONCh. “Somebody brought up in an inner-city environment may have far better instincts for imminent trouble – a sort of sixth sense, if you will. Somebody who was brought up on a farm, on the other hand, may not see trouble approaching, but will notice the disturbance caused to ‘normal’ terrain by an IED.”
Despite appearances (or concerns) to the contrary, this is not black magic but the application of perfectly rational and scientific analysis to masses of data that, in one sense, is entirely unrelated to the training concept. In addition to the normal data one might expect an EXCON to have access to after a live training event, Cervus Defence will correlate and analyse additional datasets from a variety of additional instrumented or observational sources. The ensuing process requires significant expertise in the handling and analysis of big data. There is a huge amount of psychological expertise that goes into analysing that data – and it helps that the company’s principals have largely military backgrounds and therefore have an intimate understanding of the peculiarities and vicissitudes of the requirement. As a result, they are providing support to one nation’s armed forces at the moment to help identify regional influences on the recruiting pool: where can they better target their recruitment efforts to attract individuals likely to display the desired characteristics.
It may be a little bit ‘Buck Rogers’ at first glance: and it may be just a little bit scary, too, as one recognises just how much data there is out there that lends itself to this sort of professional analysis. But the implications for training systems design, for curriculum development, for capability development and even equipment design are huge. And MONCh has every intention of pursuing this with Cervus over the next several months.