Parallax harnesses AI for Air Force research on pandemic trends

Parallax harnesses AI for Air Force research on pandemic trends

March 10, 2021

Among the revenue-producing projects for Parallax Advanced Research since the nonprofit disaffiliated from Wright State University in 2020 is an artificial intelligence (AI) system dubbed "Opera," designed with the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to help decision-makers estimate the viral spread of COVID-19.

Parallax brought in about $30 million in revenue in 2020, the year the non-profit research company disaffiliated from Wright State University, and it expects to bring in $40 million in 2021, said Dennis Andersh, president and chief executive of Parallax.

Opera uses AI machine learning, harnessing data from the pandemic, such as positivity rates and usage of personal protective equipment (PPE). The system looks for ways to predict where those trends are headed.

"One of areas too that was looked at was, can you predict where you're going to need PPE, because you're going to have a spike let's say in Columbus or a spike in Cleveland," Andersh said in a recent interview. "Can you pre-position capabilities to be more responsive?"

AFRL was the customer in that project. Opera is best seen not as a set of results, but as "an in-progress research tool," according to Parallax. The idea is that the tool can be refined to help guide policy decisions on responding to pandemics.

The contract came through the Defense Production Act process.

"The Air Force did all the Defense Production Act contracting," Andersh said. "It was actually in response to them."

The call to begin the work came from the federal government in April last year, shortly after the pandemic first was truly felt in the United States.

Parallax is engaged in more than that.

"The research spans the gamut," Andersh said. "But with a central focus on what some may call 'intelligent teaming' — so human-to-human interaction, human-to-machine interaction, machine-to-machine interaction, autonomy, which a lot people talk about in your automobile, lane control, voice-to-voice and so forth."

And there is also research into maintenance of aircraft engines, devising new ways to diagnose and predict when a part might fail, as well as human performance research, exploring how people interact with planes and machines.

The research corporation is also working with Agility Prime, the Air Force exploration of the viability of what sometimes are called "flying cars."

"It will revolutionize air travel," said Andersh, a former Science Applications International Corporation executive, who also led Wright State Applied Research Corp., as Parallax was formerly known. "And it's not that far away."

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