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Competitors Show Off Innovative Thinking at HACKtheMACHINE Unmanned

SAN DIEGO – This year’s HACKtheMACHINE Unmanned competition, held Nov. 16-19, virtually brought together nearly 1,000 competitors in the first of a series of public-facing technology challenges designed to accelerate the U.S. Navy’s Unmanned Task Force, forging valuable partnerships between the Navy, industry and academia to create new, high-end unmanned capabilities.

Sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR), this technology competition encouraged creative “hackers” to help meet the needs of the Fleet by developing and integrating unmanned and autonomous systems at scale.

Chief of Naval Research, Rear Adm. Lorin Selby, helped kick off the event, speaking about innovating in the Navy, including the notion of “the small, the agile, the many.” The idea behind that is they look at small, attritable autonomous platforms and build them quickly and at scale, to complement the larger, expensive platforms that form the bulk of the Fleet and Force. For more information about their new vision, read their press release: ONR Chief Unveils New Vision to Reimagine Naval Power.

“The centerpiece of my strategy to reimagine naval power as Chief of Naval Research is built on a few key themes. First, we are living in a time of incredible technological change, and we must meet the moment with bold action. Second, we will introduce the idea of Strategic Hedge against an alternative future. Third, we have a plan to synthesize the most creative and potentially game changing ideas of the last three decades into a plan of action,” said Selby. “Finally, we conclude with a call to action, which all begins with exploring digital challenges at HACKtheMACHINE.” 

Although participants competed virtually, event organizers and Navy personnel were on-site in San Diego to oversee and facilitate the competition, which was streamed live via YouTube and StreamYard.

There were three tracks for participants to compete in: Hack the Pilot, Detective Bot and Top Model. Each challenge fell into a different focus area – maritime cyber, data science and digital engineering, respectively – to appeal to a broad range of talents and skill sets. The Navy’s Cybersecurity Office (PMW 130) sponsored and developed the challenges for the Detective Bot track, as a way to pursue artificial intelligence/machine learning (AL/ML) tools that can distinguish benign from malicious code.

PMW 130 provided a dataset with thousands of malicious and benign code samples to see who can take inefficient AI/ML techniques developed with unlimited resources ashore and adapt them to efficient and effective cyber solutions on smaller afloat and autonomous platforms.

“The competitors at this year’s HACKtheMACHINE had to solve some really tough challenges,” said Mike Karlbom, PMW 130 Technical Director of AI/ML. “We were excited to welcome so many different participants, who were able to show off their data science skills and creative thinking in these tracks. This event shows the importance of bringing together smart people, from a variety of backgrounds, to drive innovation and collaboration.”

In the Hack the Pilot track, participants were provided with an auto piloting system and challenged to test and identify all vulnerabilities in the code base.

In the Top Model track, participants were given a set of mission goals and asked to build a simulation scenario of a wide-area search. Then, they created model-based solutions for defined situations within the created model. Finally, they determined whether their created solutions could outperform a heterogeneous collection of objects combatting the scenario.

Also at the event, PMW 130 announced the winner of their third prize challenge in the Artificial Intelligence Applications to Autonomous Cybersecurity (AI ATAC) Challenge series. The winner of the challenge and the $750,000 prize was Splunk Inc. (NASDAQ: SPLK), a data platform leader. Their submission, Splunk® SOAR, had the best performance based on the criteria of the challenge, which focused on enhancing the Security Operations Center using AI and/or ML tools to automate the detection and prevention of advanced persistent threats and other cybersecurity campaign activity.

A technology competition run annually by the Navy since 2016, HACKtheMACHINE events have been previously held in five cities nationwide: San Francisco, Austin, Boston, Seattle and New York. This year’s Unmanned challenge took advantage of a virtual setting and focused on AI/ML and digital engineering to accelerate the process of reimagining naval power.

The next HACKtheMACHINE event is scheduled to be conducted live in Miami, Florida in April 2022.

From Lily Chen

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