The customers of Raytheon Intelligence & Space know all about its advanced sensors, sophisticated cyber tools and secure software. What they don't always know is that many of these technologies were developed not by Ph.Ds and engineers with master's degrees, but instead by university students.
Raytheon Intelligence & Space, one of four businesses that form Raytheon Technologies, invests in independent research and development projects that serve several purposes: They strengthen the business' relationships with universities; they expand the pipeline of people who are both qualified and cleared to work on classified technologies; and they provide advanced education opportunities for existing employees.
“We engage with more than 40 universities,” said Kent Pride, the director of university partnerships at RI&S. “It’s as much developing relationships with students as it is recruiting.”
Undergraduate-level research, also called senior projects or capstone work, is “designed so students are encouraged to develop a technology, but the primary focus is engaging with students for recruitment,” Pride said.
One project started this summer at Virginia Tech asked students to develop geospatial analysis algorithms, which could aid in routing first responders to recover disaster victims or map COVID-19 hotspots. The input data for these algorithms consist of timestamped, GPS-derived location data that is being collected by Raytheon Technologies-developed mobile applications and tracking devices.
“The goal is to analyze the location data and look for patterns,” said Sami Wood, a 24-year old graduate student at Virginia Tech pursuing a masters in computer engineering and one of the research assistants on this project. “It’s been a fun learning challenge; it’s been helpful working with people from Raytheon Technologies.”
These insights have uses in business, defense and security, ranging from marketing, urban planning, optimization of delivery routes, and even advanced tracking of terrorist cells and organized crime.
“Given sufficient data and using a combination of statistics, probability theory, and machine learning, it is possible to infer someone’s home and work locations, favorite hangouts, preferred travel routes and modes of transportation,” said Torsten Staab, a Ph.D., who is an RI&S principal engineering fellow.
The program also has partnerships with graduate students, who are expected to yield technology that RI&S can absorb and integrate in existing RI&S products.
At the University of Texas at San Antonio, graduate students are working on research that applies natural language processing techniques to cyber anomaly detection and characterization of attack patterns to identify threat actors.
Natural language processing uses artificial intelligence to make sense of sentences.
“A computer doesn’t intuitively understand everything,” said Hector Irizarry, RI&S engineering fellow. “But it learns to put words into context and create patterns. It learns words follow a certain time sequence – a particular word follows another word and so on.”
Similarly, the research project takes that model and applies it to cyber threat detection.
“For example, if you log on to a computer and open Outlook every day, the computer will generate a series of logs to learn your routine,” Irizarry said. “But if you do something different one day and look at restricted data, the model will detect the anomaly and flag the unusual behavior.”
These partnerships with colleges and universities helps Raytheon Intelligence & Space in its efforts to create a more diverse workforce, which leads to new ideas and innovation, while giving the students hands-on work experience.
“We’re looking for the students who have interest in us, like the projects we do and have unique skills primarily in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and machine learning,” Pride said, that “flow into the skill sets we need for our employees.”