Lockheed Martin's Brainy New Image

Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) recently was awarded a $4.9 million contract to develop an object-recognition system that uses brain-inspired technologies. Appropriately dubbed ORBIT (Object Recognition via Brain-Inspired Technology), the system is based on a model of the brain's neocortex and seeks to mimic humans' extraordinary skill at recognizing patterns and objects.

Although the project is small, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) believes it has great potential and could speed an intelligence analyst's ability to do his or her job by 100-fold.

For instance, current estimates say it takes defense analysts more than 1,000 hours to sufficiently review a square kilometer -- looking for clues of a Taliban hideout, for example -- in a small patch of Afghanistan landscape. ORBIT could do the same job in 10 hours.

Investors ought to think about the technology's applications beyond military intelligence. For example, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) has done an extraordinary job of bringing satellite images to millions of people, but imagine what the company might do when it upgrades Google Earth to allow people and businesses to search the world for physical objects.

Manufacturers of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), such as AeroVironment (Nasdaq: AVAV  ) and Northrop Grumman (NYSE: NOC  ) , could use the technology to increase their drones' capabilities. In wartime, the combination of UAVs and ORBIT could allow the Air Force to accelerate identifying and destroying enemy combatants, and in border security, the technology might allow border officials to more quickly and accurately pinpoint people who are trying to enter the country.

There are a host of other applications as well, and this brain-inspired technology will give farsighted investors plenty to think about.

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