- Denver, Colorado
- Booth# 1694
Come see us and be sure to ask us about the ROCKY DB6, the super lightweight, fully rugged computer that is being used in researching the Virginia’s Omega Cave system.
AMREL now offers a full line of turn-key, fully rugged avionics solutions, complete with integrated MIL-STD-1553 cards. Form factors for stand-alone solutions include tablets, laptops, and handhelds. AMREL mobile avionic solutions directly communicate to aircrafts without an intermediate server.
“It’s really a question of capabilities,” explained Kalvin Chen, AMREL’s VP of Operations. “AMREL is known for our fully, rugged mobile computers, but we are also a customization company. We saw a demand for lightweight, portable avionic solutions and simply adapted our existing line.”
By integrating state-of-the-art MIL-STD 1553 cards, AMREL has given its customers an unprecedented range of options for communicating with aircraft. Once modified for avionic solutions, AMREL’s battle-tested tablets, laptops, and handhelds can be used for a wide variety of applications including bus troubleshooting, diagnostic systems, and data loading. Compact, small-footprint, single solution devices are an AMREL specialty, so no peripheral devices are necessary.
“We work with our customers to deliver cost-effective solutions that meet their requirements,” reports Mr. Chen, “Of course, the manufacturer’s guarantee extends to the modifications we make. We are the only rugged computer manufacturer that makes that offer.”
AMREL’s Avionic Solutions are independently certified for IP65 and the MIL-STD 810 (environmental ruggedness). Crafted with 30 years of ruggedness experience, their proven durability minimizes downtimes and lost data due to accidents and breakage.
Whatever your need, AMREL has an avionic solution for you:
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For more information, visit: http://computers.amrel.com/?p=6794
Below is a selfie taken by the Rosetta spacecraft, as it approaches a comet. Not only can you see the dumbbell-shaped comet in the upper background, but one of the spacecraft’s solar arrays are visible.
Rosetta will deliver its lander, Philae, to the comet on November 12. This is the first-ever attempt at a soft touchdown on a comet.
Ground wars are winding down (kind of, maybe), so the speeded-up acquisition process for Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) is slowing down. However, American soldiers are still performing explosive ordnance disposal. Not only do they want their UGVs, but they also want them souped-up with more reliable communications, common controllers, and delivery trucks that automatically unload. And they want them now.
National Defense Magazine published a highly informative article on the disconnect between end-user needs and the acquisition of UGVs. If you want to know about the state of UGV development within each military service, or if you just need another reason to rail against the notoriously slow procurement process, you got to read this article.
(The following article originally appeared in National Defense Magazine as Slow Pace of Robot Acquisition Programs Frustrates End Users.)
Ground robots from the outset of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars were hailed as life-savers and an example of how off-the-shelf technologies could be sped into the field without the cumbersome Defense Department bureaucracy.
Those days are over.
End users of explosive ordnance disposal robots said at a recent conference that the Pentagon’s procurement process is clearly not working for them.
Meanwhile, a Navy EOD program of record to replace the off-the-shelf Talon and PackBot models has floundered. Entering its seventh year of development, it has failed to field its first lightweight robot, and the Air Force recently pulled out of the program, citing delays.
The Army also wants to produce a multi-purpose ground robot, but the earliest it could be fielded is 2021, a senior official said.
“The way the government acquires things through its acquisitions programs has to change,” said Chief Master Sgt. Douglas Moore, an Air Force EOD technician.
In 2007, the Navy, the executive agent for producing bomb disposal robots, embarked on its Advanced EOD Robotic System (AEODRS) program, which would replace its heavy, Andros platforms that pre-dated the post-9/11 conflicts, as well as the off-the-shelf robots that were sped into the field as roadside bombs became a scourge in Iraq.
A Navy official at the National Defense Industrial Association ground robotics conference in San Antonio in 2008 described the family of three robots. The service would develop the system in three increments. Increment 1 would be a backpackable robot in the 35-pound range. Increment 2 would be around 130-pounds, somewhat similar to the size of the widely used PackBots and Talons, which must be transported in a vehicle. Increment 3 would be a large, towable robot intended for large ordnance. The 485-pound Andros robots those would replace are the only ground robot programs of record in the military today. All others were acquired through rapid equipping initiatives.
The next-generation EOD robots would be based on an open architecture system, where components, sensors and tools could be swapped out as needed.
The Navy later announced that vendors would compete for contracts to supply the components rather than a winner-take-all competition to build and integrate the robots.
Six years later, at the same NDIA conference held in College Park, Maryland, the Navy still had not fielded the basic 35-pound robot, and the Air Force said it would no longer participate in the increment 1 program. The Navy finally released its request for proposals for increment 1 components in June.
“By the time we get it, it’s 10-year-old technology,” said Moore, who had heard the program referred to as “abbreviated.”
“I don’t know what ‘abbreviated’ means. But 10 years is not abbreviated for me. Absolutely not,” he added.
The lack of progress on the Navy’s program of record is prompting the Air Force to seek an off-the-shelf robot weighing under 30 pounds. A request for proposals for 160 systems, including 10 years of support, will be released in the first quarter of 2015, according to Robert Diltz, airbase acquisition branch chief at the Air Force Civil Engineering Center.
Moore said: “That is part of the reason why the Air Force pulled out of the AEODRS increment 1 program. One, there were some slippages to the program that put some money at risk, and the technology by the time we would get it would not be what it is today.”
The Army is also looking to field an upgradable robot with open architecture that would be able to perform multiple tasks, said Heidi Shyu, assistant secretary for the Army for acquisitions, logistics and technology. The current timeline would not have it fielded until 2021, and the Army would have to consider purchasing a “stop-gap” robot in the meantime, she said.
Chris O’Donnell, staff specialist at the joint ground robotics enterprise at the office of the secretary of defense, said $1 billion has been spent on ground robots over the past 10 years.
“Unfortunately as the war ended and the [overseas contingency operations] money started to dry up, the requirements weren’t really there to go, ‘Where is the next phase of development for ground robotics?’” he said.
Interest in the technology within the Defense Department remains high, he said. Many senior officers have grown up with ground robots, he noted.
But the services now have to go back to “programs of record” and more rigorous test-and-evaluation standards, O’Donnell said. He listed about a half dozen organizations in the department that will be involved in deciding the future of ground robots in the military, including his own. The purpose of the OSD’s joint ground robotics enterprise is to encourage the services to work together.
O’Donnell was asked in an email after the conference why the Army would take so long to field a robot that, on the surface, sounded identical to what the Navy has spent seven years developing: a standard, open architecture system where components, sensors and tools could be added as needed.
“The Navy and Army technical folks have been working together for the last few years to refine an open architecture that they can both use for future efforts,” he replied. It is called the “unmanned ground vehicle interoperability profile.”
The long-wait periods were because of funding issues, he said. “The DoD funding cycle waits for no one, and the services have done a good job in identifying capability needs and getting those capabilities resourced in the out-year service budgets,” O’Donnell wrote.
It will be his job to ensure the Army and other services leverage the work done on the open architecture system, he added.
Moore was joined on a panel by six other EOD technicians, many of whom had served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and had returned from the war zone within the last six months.
They had a laundry list of features that they would like to see incorporated into current or next-generation bomb disposal robots, although most were cynical that they would see them anytime soon.
Army Master Sgt. David Silva wanted better communications connectivity in his EOD robots. This was an example of something that is available today, but hasn’t found its way to the field yet — at least not for ground robots. He sometimes loses his feeds from his robots after a couple hundred meters.
Meanwhile, an infantryman serving with him hand-launches a light-weight unmanned aerial vehicle “and he’s getting a positive feed and is controlling this thing six clicks away. Clearly it’s not a weight issue. It’s a big robot, and I’m not bound by weight,” he said.
“He has a high-definition feed, and I’m saying ‘What in the world do you have that I don’t have?’”
Moore said he would like to see some basic autonomy. Why can’t operators when arriving on scene push a button and let the robot unload itself from a truck? That would let the team focus on other tasks for 15 minutes.
Cars can parallel park themselves nowadays, he noted. “I’m not exactly sure why we’re not there yet.”
Air Force Master Sgt. Gregg Wozniak would like to see a common controller allowing all the different robots to be operated from a tablet.
Army Capt. Thomas Kirkpatrick warned that the next generation of robots may have to operate in “immature theaters.” Iraq and Afghanistan had repair depots where malfunctioning or damaged robots could be sent. That may not be the case in future conflicts where EOD technicians may be operating without a well developed logistics tail. They should have kits containing common parts that can be easily swapped out.
Similarly, other technicians speaking at the conference asked for self-diagnostics. They would like the robot to inform them what is wrong with it so they don’t waste time swapping out parts that actually work.
Silva said the new generation of off-the-shelf robots designed for dismounted operations in Afghanistan are not wholly satisfying. Their batteries lose their charges after one operation, for example. And a system that weighs a total of 35 pounds with controller and other accessories is still too heavy.
“Once the battery is dead it is useless,” he said. There needs to be a way to recharge it in the field.
The light-weight robots “can’t go where we want [them] to go.” Technicians have to carry them closer to the target, which means more risk, Silva said.
The specialists are “currently compromising safety and distance because we don’t have the platforms that allow us to do what we want to do,” he added.
Moore said 35 pounds is still above the spectrum the lightweight robots should weigh.
“Pounds equal pain,” he said. “For every pound we have to put in that backpack, that is a pound of something we can’t take.”
The EOD specialists were generally lukewarm to the idea of having a small remotely controlled drone to provide aerial reconnaissance, especially if they are only providing video feeds. Such concepts were tried in the field in Iraq but were not embraced. They did provide some security if an operator wanted to see what was over a wall. But troops currently have camera masts on their vehicles to give overhead views of bombs.
A drone with an infrared sensor, or other features that could directly help them diagnose the composition of bombs or find command wires buried in the ground, would be more useful, they said.
Other items on their wish lists were stronger arms, self-navigation and better cameras to see at night.
Silva said the current robots aren’t designed for the tactics, techniques and procedures EOD technicians employ to disarm unexploded ordnance and IEDs.
“They don’t mirror how we would inherently approach an IED. … what we are doing is we are changing the way we handle IEDs to adapt to the equipment that is available,” he said.
Moore said: “Everything that we’re asking for costs a ton of money. And everything we’ve asked for, quite honestly, the services can’t fund today. We have dwindling dollars. … From an Air Force standpoint, it’s probably safe to say that if doesn’t revolve around an airplane, it is probably going to be pushed a little bit further back into the closet.” The same could probably be said of the Army and tanks and the Navy and ships, he added.
Other speakers echoed this frustration. Despite having a dangerous job, one that others depend upon so they can maneuver freely on the battlefield, their technology budget is miniscule compared to others.
Still, the moribund acquisition system, which cannot seem to put already mature technology into the hands of robot operators, is making matters worse, they said. Two vendors attending the conference spoke to the frustrations they had encountered.
One said there simply wasn’t any path for him to get the technology he has to offer into the technicians’ hands. He had quit attempting to win military contracts.
Another had developed an infrared sensor specifically for EOD technicians under a government contract. The Technical Support Working Group, which funds inventors and researchers to tackle tough counterterrorism problems, paid his company to design the sensor.
Noting that one of the EOD technicians said during the panel that he needed better infrared sensors, the vendor said he produced it more than three years ago, and that he could manufacture them for about $60 apiece.
“It’s ridiculous that I can’t get technology that the government paid to develop … over to you so you can use it. … It’s insane. It’s absolutely insane,” he said.
The panel moderator, Thomas Gonzalez, senior vice president of corporate development at Stratom Inc., a small business that provides EOD training and consulting services, said there was a lot of frustration among users and vendors.
“After such a long, drawn out war for them to be asking for stuff they were asking for 10 years ago, in my mind is a little bit of a tragedy,” he said.
Silva said the attitude in the military is, “Until it’s a problem, it’s not a problem.”
With the Afghanistan war winding down, IEDs are not affecting most people’s day-to-day lives.
“It’s not a priority. We understand that. We’re going to be here [doing our job] regardless.”
When you play a first-person shooter game, did you ever wish you were firing a real gun? In a real war? These plucky Free Syrian Army (FSA) rebels made this fantasy real. Their homemade tank has a .50 machine gun whose Operator Control Unit (OCU) is a PlayStation controller. Look out Assad and ISIL; the FSA has guys who play video games.
The unmanned community has been demoralized by the tightening of the Defense money spigot. Specifically, many are concerned that American leadership in this important field will fall behind as the Defense funding decreases. In a previous post, this blog reviewed “The Looming Robotics Gap” (Foreign policy) and found its fears of failing American unmanned superiority unwarranted.
However, it’s hard to keep a depressing idea down. A more recent article, “Do Drones have a future?” (War on the Rocks), written by Paul Scharre, an expert with the prestigious and influential think tank Center for a New American Security, maintains the steady drumbeat of fear about American decline.
The two articles have much in common. They both complain of the restriction of unmanned systems to niche areas (technological ghettos), and the hostility of the pilot culture to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). Both used detailed information to support their points. Whereas the earlier Foreign Policy article focused on competition by nation states and the threats posed by widespread commercialization, the later article is mostly concerned with attitudes within each military service. Although, I remain skeptical of the alarm raised by the Scharre’s article, I do appreciate its comprehensive overview of each service branch. You can follow the above link to read the whole article, or read my summary and analysis below.
Considering the Air Force is the epitome of pilot culture that has restricted the development of unmanned systems, Scharre is surprisingly mild in his assessment of this service branch. He is especially complimentary of the Air Force’s new Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) Vector. However, he criticizes it for not being funded.
Rob Culver, AMREL’s Director of Business Development Programs (DOD), who has many years of experience in procurement, finds this criticism wanting.
“For one thing the Vector document is not meant to be funded” he explained. “It is a ‘Vision and Enabling Concepts’ document. It is for ‘Guidance’.”
Culver also sees the debates about the role of unmanned systems as typical for new technology.
“In some ways it mirrors the advent and adoption of armor versus horse cavalry, fixed wing aircraft versus rotary wing aircraft,” he argues. For a discussion about the adoption of machine guns, he recommends Grim Reaper: Machine-Guns and Machine-Gunners in Action by Roger Ford.
Scharre disparages the Air Force for not making the top position in overseeing unmanned systems a pathway to promotion. He also advocates deploying autonomous, multiple, low cost, “expendable” UAVs in swarms. It is not clear from the article if the Air Force is considering this or if Scharre is mentioning it, because he thinks it’s a good idea.
Compared to the Air Force, the influence of pilot culture in the Army is minimal. Perhaps, this is why, according to Scharre, that it is furthest along in integrating unmanned systems. He praises (rightly, in my opinion) the development of unmanned-manned teams.
He also discusses swarms again. Specifically, he criticizes the lack of funding for autonomy research. Culver counters that there is funding for this (at least DARPA is doing research), and wonders if Scharre’s pro-swarm agenda is the real point of this article.
In his discussion of the Navy, Scharre resists the urge to mention swarming. He does criticize the specifications of Navy’s Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS). He writes that they are not “relevant against more sophisticated adversaries” (the “adversaries” to which he is obliquely referring consist of a large unidentified Asian country, whose name rhymes with “Dinah”). He also voices the often-heard suspicion that the Navy deliberately downgraded the requirements, so as to not compete with next generation of manned fighters.
Both Culver and I think Scharre is jumping the gun in regards to UCLASS. The program is a work in progress, and the Navy has a process to follow through.
Frankly, I am amazed at the amount of progress that the Navy has already made. One of the most difficult missions in the military is using a maritime platform for the deployment of combat aircraft. The fact that the Navy has already landed a UAV on a carrier suggests that they are not dragging their feet on unmanned systems.
The Marines do not have a lot going on with unmanned systems. They don’t like using the assets of other services, but their amphibious boats do not have much room for additional equipment. Perhaps, the Marines would be more enthusiastic about adopting robots if they could find one that boasts that it’s tougher than all the other unmanned systems.
Scharre concludes that we are all doomed. Well, no, he doesn’t actually write that. In fact, he outlines a sophisticated vision for the role of unmanned systems, and warns that the US lead is “fragile.”
Both Culver and I feel that Scharre made some interesting points, and agree with most of what he said. We are a little dubious of some of his criticisms and feel that the adoption of unmanned systems is facing obstacles similar to ones that challenged other new technologies in the past. Despite their skeptics, machine guns, airplanes, and armored vehicles have a firm place in modern forces. So will unmanned systems.
Speaking for myself, I am glad that the unmanned community has advocates like Scharre. However, I still feel that in spite of bureaucratic obstinacy and funding problems, the US is in an excellent position to maintain unmanned dominance for some time to come.
To learn more about DoD’s unmanned plans, contact
Rob Culver at (603) 325-3376 or email@example.com
It’s a familiar scenario. After an encounter with a policeman, someone lies dead or is severely beaten. Citizens complain about police violence, while the police claim they were acting in self-defense.
It almost doesn’t matter who is telling the truth; suspicions build between law enforcement and the community that they are sworn to protect. The public becomes less cooperative, so Investigations are stalled. The police become more fearful, which leads to more force being used, which generates more distrust, and so on.
Wearable cameras are being touted as a way to break this cycle. To improve their relationship with the community, police in the troubled town of Ferguson, Missouri are getting wearable cameras. It is thought that by providing objective evidence, cameras will ease tensions between the public and law enforcement.
It is a thought that a thousand other police departments are having. Police departments adopting or experimenting with wearable cameras include those in Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Hartford, Fort Worth (Texas), Chesapeake (VA), Modesto (CA), San Francisco, Eugene (Oregon), New York City, Owasso (OK), and Rialto(CA).
Rialto, a medium-size city, is the one that you will be hearing about. A well-publicized study concluded wearable cameras reduced use-of force incidents by 50% and citizen complaints by over 80%. Other cities have reported similar results.
“In addition to documenting encounters with the public, wearable cameras can help with the tricky task of identification,” explains Richard Lane, Vice-President of AMREL’s Strategic Business Development. “If the video stream is analyzed by facial recognition software, the officer could, in theory, be informed in real time, if a civilian has warrants or has a dangerous history. This could give officers an extra level of security, which would reduce the tensions between the public and the police.”
Typically, compact cameras are fixed to an officer’s collar, chest, sunglasses, or even a Taser. Battery packs are designed to last for a full shift. Images are uploaded automatically to a central server.
In order to minimize police “editing” the video stream to be unduly favorable, citizen-rights advocates argue that officer should be unable to turn on or off the camera. In this scenario, the camera is always turned on, running 30 second loops, i.e. the continuous video stream is erased every 30 seconds. More extended and permanent recordings are triggered by specific events, such as traffic stops, or activation of a Taser. It is not clear how many departments have adopted these policies.
Police are suspicious
Police, like everyone else are concerned about their privacy. Remember, some are advocating that cameras record all the time, even when the officers are in the bathroom.
The lack of privacy in the modern era has been one of selling points to recalcitrant officers. “You are being video recorded anyway by close-circuit TV or smartphones” argue their superiors. “You might as well have a record that shows your side.”
Patrolmen are also frightened that the video could be used against them by their superiors. What if the higher ranks decide to go after a whistleblower or a union organizer? It would be a relatively simple matter to review hours of video feed in order to find something incriminating. For this and other reasons, privacy activists advocate that all video not related to an investigation should be automatically erased after a week or so.
In New York City, a Federal judge, reacting to the abuses caused by the controversial stop-and-frisk program, ordered the city to investigate the use of wearable cameras. The president of one of the police unions, Patrick Lynch, complained:
“Our members are already weighed down with equipment like escape hoods, mace, flashlights, memo books, asps [i.e., batons], radio, handcuffs and the like. Additional equipment becomes an encumbrance and a safety issue for those carrying it. Given that the root cause of this stop-and-frisk problem is a significant shortage of police officers in local precincts, it seems to us that the monies spent on a bodycam pilot program would be better spent on hiring more police officers and providing them with extensive field training with an experienced officer.”
Nevertheless, it seems that familiarity breeds acceptance. Typical is the experience of the police in Scottsdale, Arizona. At first, the cameras (which are voluntary) were met with suspicions by the officers. Then they saw how the cameras backed up an officer’s version of events, when he faced a spurious complaint. Like officers in other communities, they are beginning to see cameras as their friends.
The union president quoted above is not the only person concerned about cost. Cameras range usually range from $300 to $400, but can be higher. Competition between two leading providers, Vievu and Taser International, has driven the cost of the cameras down. Furthermore, it is expected that the price-sensitive mobile device industry will produce even cheaper off-the-shelf models.
However, cameras are only one part of the cost. Consider:
- San Francisco will spend $250,000 to put cameras on 50 officers.
- Owasso (OK) Police spent about $31,500 for 35 cameras and approximately $13,500 for data storage.
- NYPD will spend $60,000 to initiate a program with 60 cameras.
- Eugene, Oregon has spent $22,000 on 18 cameras.
- Scottsdale is reported to have spent $995 per camera, plus software.
The mathematically inclined reader will notice that the costs are exceeding the typical prices of cameras. That’s because software and storage expenses are considerable.
Storage costs on the cloud are declining, but will remain a significant expense for years to come. Police are finding, like their counterparts in the military, that managing huge amount of video can be extremely resource intensive.
“One reason that software and information storage are expensive is that vendors typically target the very few really large police departments,” reports Mr. Lane. “More needs to be done in providing scalable solutions to small to middle-size law enforcement entities, perhaps using month-to-month leasing models.”
There is an argument that cameras will pay for themselves. Eugene, Oregon reports that videos often eliminate the need for investigations. Even when the number of complaints went up, the cost of expensive investigations went down. “It’s hard to argue with video,” said Sgt. Larry Crompton.
Of course, the big issue is privacy. As pointed out above, police have a right to privacy. Furthermore, they are almost unique in the level of intimacy they encounter with the public. They enter people’s homes, and have physical contact with them.
Privacy activists, such as the ACLU, advocate continuous recording and the “30 second” rule as described above. They also think video images should be routinely be erased after a week or two, in order to protect both the police and the public. Hopefully, this will prevent embarrassing videos of otherwise innocent people from appearing on the internet.
Whether you like the ACLU or not, their recommendations will be a factor in how cameras are used. Click here to see the ACLU proposals.
Access to the videos will be a critical issue. Consider the final paragraph in this article. After quoting all sorts of feel-good statements from the police about the cameras, the newspaper reports:
“Eugene police denied a records request from The Register-Guard for video and complaints against police cited in its reporting. The department cited state public records law that allows an agency to keep secret those records that relate to a personnel investigation into an officer, if no discipline has resulted.”
You see the problem? It is precisely when the police department rules that an officer is innocent that the video should be accessible to the public. That way objective evidence can validate the department’s decision to clear the officer.
Clearly, policies will have an important effect whether cameras live up to their potential of easing civilian/police tensions.
Seeing is not believing
You may have seen this picture before. It is one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century.
It looks like a man dressed as a civilian being summarily executed by a South Vietnamese official. This picture and the video of the same incident became iconic for the anti-war movement. The shooter, General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (South Vietnamese police), was plagued by this photograph for the rest of his life.
The man being shot was Captain Nguyen Van Lem, a leader of a Viet Cong assassination team. He had been caught “red-handed” at a mass grave of 34 bound bodies, which included 7 Vietnamese police officers and their families.
In other words, what the video and picture recorded was a policeman exercising understandable (if not justifiable) revenge against a war criminal who had just murdered fellow officers and their families. What people saw was a wanton act of barbarous brutality.
I found only one source for this story. What is inconvertible is that the photographer, Eddie Adams, deeply regretted the photograph (for which he won a Pulitzer Prize), formally apologized to the shooter, and called him a “hero.” Adams wrote:
“Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths.”
What we can learn from this example is that cameras are not a panacea for easing tensions between the police and the public. Officers see things differently than civilians. Cameras may provide objective evidence. However, according to at least one celebrated photographer, they will best only provide half of the truth.
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