Our Technical Conferences - a Valuable and Vital Resource
by Bob Hill
One of our instructors, Bob Hill, has for many years been active in the organization and conduct of conferences in his field of radar. He has seen first hand the "explosion" in the number of conferences held, sponsored not only by the IEEE, of course, but now by many professional societies around the world.
Bob is recognized as the founder, more or less, of the series of international radar conferences now shared by five nations on a five-year cycle, the ones informally called "Radar-[year]", stemming from his organizing the 1975 IEEE conference with invited association with the Institute of Electrical Engineers in the UK. As other groups showed interest, Bob did a lot of the early "coordination" in forging the multinational series, today comprising US, Chinese, UK, Australian and French sponsorship, in that order.
Fast forward: Last October the French conducted Radar-2009 in Bordeaux and Bob attended, nothing unusual there. But after committing to go, his good friend in Germany, Hermann Rohling, asked him to chair a session in a September conference in Hamburg, a conference of another important series that Dr. Rohling has been instrumental in establishing, the International Radar Symposium, conducted now in a two-year cycle alternating with the radar interests in Poland. Bob had, in the 1990's, participated a few times in both the Polish MIKON conferences and in others of the German symposia prior to their merging into the present series. So, off to Europe in both September for "IRS-2009" and October for "Radar-2009". "A bit more than the usual pace for personal travel, but well worth it, particularly as it turned out", says Bob.
Each conference covered radar quite generally, with exciting advances reported in virtually all areas of radar design and operation. But Bob was especially struck by the reports in space-based radar. "SBR is not the radar area where I made my living - naval radar was my area", Bob asserts, "but in all my teaching, I emphasize how impressed I am with what the 'remote sensing community' and those working in SBR have accomplished during my lifetime - really extraordinary!"
For example, no further into the Hamburg conference than the opening session, Bob reports, was the worth of attending realized! Dr. Alberto Moreira (of DLR, the German Aerospace Center, Wessling) covered the "Tandem L" proposal now being studied and refined, involving two L-band satellites in careful co-orbits for good interferometry, just one of many modes of operation promised.
"Alberto's presentation of the several missions possible (bio-mass measurements of surface areas; carbon content at higher elevations; deformation monitoring of selected mounts and faults) was intriguing," Bob reports, "as was the early antenna consideration being given - a 15 meter reflector of the peripheral truss structural type, all unfurled in orbit, of course - with a digital beam forming feed array to give lots of modal variation in antenna performance. I can hardly wait to work some of these published results into our SBR course!" Incidentally, Bob mentions that his conversation with his friend Alberto after his presentation - immediate, personal contact, another distinct value of such conferences - quickly cleared up some questions about the antenna and down link structure of the often-pictured Terra-SAR vehicles common to some of these pursuits. "Alberto asked to be remembered to Keith Raney specifically. Dr. Raney and Dr. Bart Huxtable are the two true SBR experts in our ATI SBR course which I simply start off with radar fundamentals pertinent to SBR."
Of course, this was only the beginning of a several-day learning experience. Other advances in polarimetry (as for vegetation and other surface structure signature analysis), in multi-band SAR (particularly noteworthy: A. Reigber, also from DLR, on an integrated airborne SAR system involving P, L, S, C, and X-band operation, with S and X multiple apertures for interferometry), in broadband pulse compression (for high range resolution in SBR and other SAR imaging), were covered and provide a great resource for keeping our courses current and "connected" to the active international radar community.
One month later - Bordeaux. Bob mentions, still in the SBR context here, one particular "update" experience. For many years, the SAR work at our own Lincoln Laboratories (of MIT) has been well and openly reported, specifically those efforts led by Dr. Les Novak. A grateful Bob explains, "Les and I have known each other for longer than recorded history, I think, and he's been very generous to me in providing good teaching material (vugraphs early on, now PPT files!), vivid same-scene images to illustrate different resolutions and various polarimetric processes." In Bordeaux, Dr. Novak treated a specialty area of his, namely "change detection" in radar images - for example, (yes, even to this extent) the depression of grass from troops having marched on it. His "tutorial" at the Bordeaux conference was entitled "Algorithms for SAR Change Detection, Compression and Super-Resolution". His presented paper was on the effects of various degrees of data compression upon the efficacy of change detection - here was treatment, explored by using actual scene and data sets, of a subject far from trivial as we consider, particularly in SBR, how we might handle the tremendous amount of signal data that the sensor itself gathers (we're achieving finer and finer resolution all the time) when we must down-link it for ground-based processing. Once again, Dr. Novak obliges Bob's interest, and has sent him a large file ("More than I can use - I'll get it sorted out!") for use in teaching.
How do we keep courses current in such a rapidly advancing area as radar? It takes genuine interest and enthusiasm in one's field and resources at the same time. Bob Hill, like so many of our instructors, has plenty of the former, and finds the many professional conferences and journals to supply a good measure of the latter!