SAPIENT autonomous sensor system

Development of a standard approach for AI and autonomy in networked multi-sensor systems in security and defence.

Sensing for Asset Protection with Integrated Electronic Networked Technology (SAPIENT) uses autonomy to reduce the workload of people operating multi-sensor systems, in security and defence scenarios.

It is the concept of a network of advanced sensors with AI at the edge, combined with intelligent fusion and sensor management.

The benefits of SAPIENT include:

  • significantly lower cognitive burden on operators
  • lower communications bandwidth
  • operational flexibility
  • dual defence and security use
  • lower acquisition cost

SAPIENT has been adopted by MOD as the standard for counter-UAS (uncrewed air system) technology. It is also being evaluated as a potential NATO standard for counter-drone systems.

Use the SAPIENT standard

The SAPIENT architecture is owned by MOD, but we have made the interface control document (ICD) freely available, along with the middleware and test harness, to encourage suppliers and partners to adopt the standard, contribute towards its development, and exploit the technologies created under this initiative.

Two computer screens showing map information

Limitations of current systems

Most security and situational awareness systems, such as CCTV cameras or drone detection systems, simply collect data from their sensors and feed it ‘raw’ to an operator who assesses the situation and directs the system accordingly. Monitoring and interpreting lots of data requires high communications bandwidth and places a high cognitive burden on the operator.

How SAPIENT works

In the SAPIENT system, the individual sensors are advanced, using artificial intelligence (AI) to make detections and classifications locally, sending only the information not the raw data, to the command and control system. They also make operating decisions autonomously, such as which direction to look or whether to zoom in, in order to fulfil higher-level objectives. These higher-level objectives are managed by a decision-making module which controls the overall system and makes some of the decisions normally made by the operators. This reduces the operator’s need to constantly monitor the output of the sensors.

Encouraging system integration and development of compatible modules

SAPIENT is a MOD-owned, open-architecture that specifies the standards and protocols that allow modern AI algorithms to work in concert across a suite of sensors. These algorithms reside both on-board the autonomous sensor modules (ASM) - embodying AI at the edge - and at decision-making modules (DMM). The architecture strongly encourages component modularity (the ability to plug-and-play these modules) which reduces system integration time and creates a competitive supplier ecosystem for the components.

Critically, SAPIENT is designed to enable multi-sensor fusion (correlation, association and tracking) and sensor management (dynamic tasking of the sensors in response to the unfolding scenario). This gives MOD access to the advanced AI solutions that are being developed by our innovative supplier base.

While the key outputs from the SAPIENT initiative are the standards (that is: the ICD, test harnesses and other software tools) to enable innovative suppliers to develop ASM and DMM components, the SAPIENT project has also developed research versions of these components to demonstrate the concept and evaluate the benefits to users.

SAPIENT in action

SAPIENT has been used in a number of high profile international exercises and experiments, leading to wider adoption by industry and partners.

In November 2021 SAPIENT’s ICD was evaluated as an interoperability standard for multi-sensor counter-UAS systems, at the NATO technical interoperability exercise (TIE21) in The Netherlands. It was highly successful in facilitating over 70 connections between C-UAS sensor systems and Command and Control (C2) systems, and enabling 17 advanced ASMs from different vendors to connect to 7 DMMs.

People gathered round multiple computer screens with mapping information

In September and October 2021 SAPIENT standards, Decision Making Module and compatible sensors were used in the Contested Urban Environment 2021 (CUE2021) exercise. This multinational experiment involved over 60 innovative technologies, many of which were developed as SAPIENT compliant and shared their data using the SAPIENT ICD. Multi-sensor fusion and sensor management was provided by the advanced AI in the SAPIENT DMM. This illustrated SAPIENT’s critical place in a scalable, layered intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability of the future, delivering enhanced situational awareness to support command and control of operations in complex terrain and more efficient employment of ISR assets.

CUE2021 followed on directly after a NATO Science and Technology Organization trial investigating architectures for Interoperability and Networking of Disparate Sensors and Platforms for ISR Applications. Here SAPIENT was deployed, in concert with other architectures (Open Standards for Unattended Sensors and the OGC’s Sensor Web Enablement), as an integrating infrastructure for multinational mobile and fixed ISR assets.

People gathered round multiple computer screens with mapping information

Future development

SAPIENT started as a jointly funded project by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) and Innovate UK. Dstl is now working with multiple stakeholders in defence and across government to consider the applicability of the SAPIENT concept, standards and architecture for military and civilian security applications, whilst working with industry partners to exploit the technologies created under this initiative.

The UK MOD has already adopted SAPIENT as a standard for counter-drone technology. In the November 2019 Counter-Unmanned Air Systems (C-sUAS) Strategy, MOD specifies:

To prevent capability gaps and ensure interoperability, all Defence C-sUAS systems will use the same open architecture (SAPIENT). This will also ensure that our systems can evolve at the component level enabling the spiral development of capability.

The Rapid Innovation Cell (RIC), has been established as part of the UAS Capability Development Centre (UASCDC) to test and evaluate mature C-sUAS capabilities and generate a managed Defence database of available capabilities. Through a regular programme of test and evaluation events, the RIC will establish the efficacy of commercially available capabilities. The RIC verifies SAPIENT compatibility for all C-sUAS equipment put forward for testing.

SAPIENT Interface Management Panel (SIMP)

To support SAPIENT as it matures towards a deployable capability meeting the needs of various stakeholders, Dstl has a cross-industry, cross-stakeholder working group, known as the SAPIENT Interface Management Panel (SIMP). The SIMP aims to create a configuration control framework around the SAPIENT interface and tools.

Membership of the SIMP is open to all but operates on a non-funded, voluntary basis. If you would like to be involved in the SIMP, please contact us.

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You can also find out more about Dstl’s sensing science and technology capability.

Published 20 December 2021
Last updated 22 June 2022 + show all updates
  1. Added link to the middleware and test harness for SAPIENT, which are now open source.

  2. First published.