A TEAM OF ABOUT 200 researchers at a lab in Atlanta
toils on sensor prototyping and testing. The lab specializes in
building prototypes and improving legacy systems used in a
wide range of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance and
electronic warfare applications.
Much of the work is sensitive at the Geor-
gia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) Sensors
and Electromagnetic Applications Labora-
tory (SEAL), in part because the word “applications” is cen-
tral to what it does. Unlike the basic research and develop-
ment conducted at some military and national labs, applied
research often is not made publicly available. “Any time we’re
looking at applications—which is where we’re focused—that
tends to not be in the public domain,” explains Mel Belcher,
SEAL director. “We tend to be very application-focused. We
don’t get credit for our labor until we actually get something
integrated with a legacy system or get a sensor built and ...
show that it can collect data.”
Because of the nature of the work, Belcher must be circum-
spect with what he reveals. He confirms that the laboratory
has contributed to the war effort, for example, but he will
only go as far as a simple “Yes.” Still, he touts SEAL’s ability
to push out prototypes on behalf of the U.S. Defense Depart-
ment and military services. “Our culture is really about build-
ing things and technology insertion, probably much more so
than most of the labs out there. What drives our growth is
really prototyping,” he says.
According to the GTRI website, SEAL research falls
into four primary areas: intelligence, surveillance and
The Practical Art of Prototyping Sensors
A university laboratory applies research for warfighters.
BY GEORGE I.
The G TRI Airborne Unmanned Sensor
System (GAUSS) is used to evaluate
sensing devices in airborne testing.
reconnaissance (ISR); air and missile defense; foreign material exploitation and electromagnetic systems; and electronic
attack and electronic protection. SEAL investigates and
develops radio and microwave frequency sensor systems,
emphasizing radar systems engineering; electronics intelligence; communications intelligence; measurements intelligence; electromagnetic environmental effects; radar system
performance modeling and simulation; advanced signal and
array processing; sensor fusion; and antenna technology.
Furthermore, SEAL cultivates advanced signal and data processing methods for acoustic sensors as well as multisensor
intelligence exploitation architectures and algorithms covering all wavebands.
“We provide a range of systems engineering, software
development and hardware-prototyping skills and services,”
The laboratory is a university-affiliated research center as
chartered by the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for
Acquisition, Technology and Logistics. As such, the lab is
designated as having a set of core competencies important to
the Defense Department. As part of the charter, the lab must
provide customers with full intellectual property rights. “In
exchange for our contracting arrangements, we’re obligated to
make those competencies available to [the Defense Depart-
ment] and its contractors,” Belcher offers. “That helps us with
technology transition as well as with what we sometimes call
the practical arts, as opposed to pure research.”
It is a good time to be in the prototyping business because
the Defense Department’s third offset strategy stresses