What military technology will disrupt future markets?

DB6_soldier_legRecently, someone asked a question on Quora about which military technology is more advanced than its commercial counterpart.  How would you have answered this question?  What military technology will disrupt future commercial markets? A modified form of my answer follows:

I think the question is based on a premise that may be outdated. Traditionally, the military has funded pioneering Research & Development (R&D). Eventually, these technological breakthroughs would be transferred to the civilian market. The Internet and personal computers are examples of this paradigm.

However, the explosive growth of civilian electronics has changed all that. The civilian market is way bigger, much more dynamic, and often more advanced than the military one.

During Desert Storm, officers noticed that combat personnel were ignoring government-issued electronic equipment, and bringing items bought on the civilian market into front-line combat areas. They also noticed that the consumer items were frequently superior to the military ones. An example that is often given is SIGINT troops using RadioShack scanners to gather intelligence on digital data, because their government collectors were designed for old-fashion analog signals. An ex-Marine told me that, during the 90s, he and his buddies bought their own walkie-talkies, because the government issued ones had overly large and clumsy batteries.

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This change in technological development is an especially serious problem for the American military, which relies on a hi-tech edge to maintain superiority. Why spend a fortune developing something when the enemy can buy the same or superior product at a local store?

The Department of Defense is desperately trying to adapt to this new situation. R&D is much more limited, and there is a greater emphasis on purchasing Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) products.  However, this transition has not been without is challenges (See COTS – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly).

However, there are still some items used by the military that I have not seen in civilian markets, and that may be ripe for commercial use:

  1. Renewable energy solutions.  The American military, the largest user of oil in the world, has enthusiastically embraced renewable energy as a cost-saving measure and for logistical reasons. At tradeshows, I have seen “rucksack” solar panels, i.e. soft ones that roll up in a backpack. I have never seen anything like them in the camping stores I frequent. Some of the military’s mobile renewable energy solutions would be great for off-grid and poor communities.
  2. Rugged computers. These are tough computers that can withstand harsh, environmental conditions.  VDC Research determined that even though these computers initially cost more than conventional commercial models, they actually save money in the long run, because of fewer repairs, less downtime, and less lost data. Police officers, warehouse workers, oil workers, outdoorsmen, miners, farmers, field researchers, and others would benefit from using rugged computers. I recently talked to a geophysicist who dragged a rugged computer through miles of a wet underground cave system, and was thrilled with its reliability. Sadly, many are unaware of rugged computers’ financial and practical advantages. In theory, a clever entrepreneur, with very little start-up costs, could identify a needy market niche, and make money selling rugged computers to them.  To learn more about rugged computers, visit computers.amrel.com
  3. Robotics. I do not know which is the primary driving force in robotic development, civilian or military. I do know that the military is doing amazing things, especially through DARPA.  I would not be surprised to see some of the military’s pioneering work on autonomy used for self-driving cars and robots that assist the elderly or disabled.

What do you think?

Tell us about the next big military-to-civilian tech transfer by emailing editor@amrel.com

How to buy a tablet for your construction business

constructionsiteThinking of buying tablets for your construction business? Here are 5 things you should consider before you lay your money down.

1) Do you really need a tablet, rather than just keep on using paper and pencils?  This is probably a no brainer, since the advantages of tablets are so clear:

  • Save time by entering data once. No more transferring handwritten information to a computer
  • Improved communications. Fewer telephone calls to the home office since workers can make requests from the worksite.
  • Greater efficiency. Workers can bring virtually the information they need with them. No more rushing back to the office for that one diagram someone forgot to bring.
  • Decreased paper work and printing costs. Over the long run, this and other advantages more than compensates for the cost of the tablet itself.

About the only disadvantage tablet has over the traditional paper and pen method is the learning curve, i.e. it takes time and effort for the workers to learn how to use them and for the organization to adapt.  However, this initial inconvenience is overwhelmed by the eventual benefits.

2) Should you buy a rugged device? Traditionally, there are two downsides to a rugged device; expense and bulk, but both of these disadvantages are rapidly disappearing. A report by VDC Research demonstrated that in the long run, rugged computers save money.  Fewer downtimes, less lost data, and less lost work more than make up for the higher initial cost.  This is especially important on a construction site, where work can grind to a halt due to a cracked screen. In addition, rugged computer developers have made a lot of progress in reducing the size and weight of their products. Even rugged laptops have gotten smaller.  For example, the ROCKY RS11 rugged laptop is only an inch thick.

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3) How can I tell if it is rugged? This can be difficult.  There is no regulatory agency that determines “ruggedness.”  In theory, I could stick a power supply on a banana and call it a rugged computer. Some unscrupulous computer manufacturers claim ruggedness, or invent marketing terms, such as “semi-rugged,” or “business rugged,” when the only things their products have in common with their more durable cousins is the higher price.  To be certain, only buy rugged computers that have been independently certified to MIL-STD 810, the military standard for environmental ruggedness.

4) Should you buy a laptop or tablet? Tablets are more mobile (smaller form factor), have quicker boot-up times, and all the cool kids use them. Laptops have a keyboard (good for quick onsite reports), more powerful processors, and your Dad uses one. However, the single most important difference is the size of the screens. When scoping out a minute detail on a blueprint, or trying to get an overall sense of a project, nothing beats a big screen.  Sometimes your Dad is right.

One laptop that has been popular with AMREL’s construction clients is the ROCKY RF10.  Its 17-inch display is the largest on the rugged laptop market.  For folks who want a laptop with a minimal footprint there is the ROCKY RS11, which is the thinnest, lightest rugged laptop in the world.

However, if you do decide to get a rugged tablet, you can get one that easily runs full Windows.  Both the 8.4” ROCKY DR10 and 12” ROCKY DK10 tablets have speedy i7 processors. If you are ambivalent, you can get a ROCKY DT10 tablet, which has a built-in keyboard, or even a convertible, such as the U12CI.

5) Batteries.  Everyone runs low on battery power. Find out if your rugged computer has an option for a second battery.

There are other issues, such as customization and End of Life, but if you can answer the 5 above questions, you’re ready to get started.

For more information, please contact Javier Camarillo, AMREL’s Senior Application Engineer at (800) 882-6735 or javierc@amrel.com

FirstNet By The Numbers [INFOGRAPHIC & PPT]

FirstNet JPEG v2Oregon’s Single Point of Contact (SPOC) for FirstNet, Steve Noel, had a problem.  He and the Oregon state outreach team needed to contact hundreds of officials about the ambitious plan to provide interoperable communications for First Responders.  Even for communications professionals, FirstNet is not the easiest thing to understand.

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Inspired by Pinterest, they put together a bare-bones, fact-filled infographic.  This straightforward graphic explanation of basic facts has proven extremely effective and surprisingly popular. Buoyed by success of inforgraphic, Steve created a companion PowerPoint demonstration. If you are looking for a good introduction to FirstNet, view infographic here.  For more information, download Power Point.

What’s in your bag?

felix the catSuppose you have a bag of plug-and-play hardware/apps for your laptop, what would be in it? AMREL has a proprietary technology that allows you to instantly install hardware in your DVD/CD drive. So far, we have modules for different radio frequencies, biometric enrollment, targeting solutions, operator control units for unmanned systems, and others. What would you like to instantly install in your laptop? CAC card reader? RFID scanner? Coffee cup holder? Please leave a comment.

For more information visit: Flexpedient.


Building the 2021 Affordable Military [DOWNLOAD]

The bipartisan Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) has been rated the “…number one think tank for security and international affairs” (Wikipedia).  Power brokers and key influencers staff the CSIS, and when they talk, people listen.Building the 2021 Affordable Military

What they have to say about how we spend money on Defense will undoubtedly be heard by important decision makers. The 120-page “Building the 2021 Affordable Military” was created by a CSIS study team over the course of two years. It is “…a methodological approach for how DoD could minimize the impact of a deep budgetary reduction and provide the military capabilities needed for the strategic realities of 2020+.”

They even developed cost calculators for making trade-off decisions. They don’t simply advocate a specific strategy; they tell you the cost of various “alternative militaries.”

The great thing about this study is its unqualified embrace of details. What to find out how many tankers the Air Force Reserve has now? Will need? With or without sequester? With or without the Pacific tilt? This report has an answer for you. Same goes for battalions, submarines, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

One little tidbit I found on page 3 was “In the past, drawdowns ended below $400 billion in constant 2013 dollars; this one will bottom out at over $500 billion. In FY 2017, even though DoD is spending over $100 billion more, it will ‘buy’ an active duty force that is 34 percent smaller than in 1978 and six percent smaller than in 2000. This means not just fewer defense dollars but also a “weaker” defense dollar in terms of its purchasing power.”

So, the people who are complaining that Defense spending is at a historic high (during a drawdown) and those that are warning about  “hollowed-out” military capabilities are both right.

“Building the 2021 Affordable Military” is an ideal reference work for those doing serious market research on Defense issues.  Download it here.


DARPA Robotics Challenge

Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) don’t get much love. Their aerial cousins, usually described by the technically inaccurate term “drone,” receive much more publicity, as well as greater funding. UGV developers fear that the Defense budget squeeze will disproportionately affect them.

However, one federal agency still believes in promoting UGV development. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is sponsoring the DARPA Robotics Challenge, “… a competition of robot systems and software teams vying to develop robots capable of assisting humans in responding to natural and man-made disasters.” In addition to a $2 million prize for the top contestant, this challenge represents a wonderful opportunity to explore capabilities and for developers to network.

Read more

DB6 & Target Acquisition [VIDEO]

This amazing video illustrates how the DB6 is integrated into a lightweight Ground Target Acquisition System (GTAS).  Made by the Israeli defense giant, IAI, the GTAS is clearly designed for the classic Special Forces mission, i.e. a small number of soldiers infiltrate enemy territory and locate targets.

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AMREL powers up world’s only 17 inch fully rugged laptop

RF102AMREL revealed that the ROCKY RF10, the world’s only  17.1” fully rugged laptop, has been upgraded. Adding performance to a proven platform, AMREL has boosted the ROCKY RF10 with a powerful i7 processor, expanded memory, Solid State Drive option, and a faster graphics processing unit.

Read more


ASNE DAY 2014AMREL will be demonstrating its amazingly compact, fully rugged Slimline at ASNE Day.

See the:

  •  ROCKY RS11 – Lightest thinnest, rugged laptop in the world
  • ROCKY DB6 – World’s smallest rugged handheld with full Windows OS
  • ROCKY DF6 – Small footprint, Big connector options
  • 19”/2® Rugged Network Communication Systems – 1/4 size, 100% performance

 Thin has never been so tough!


New ROCKY DK10 12.1″ Rugged Tablet – For Brightest Day & Darkest Night

dk10201305310000SNEAK PREVIEW   The new DK10 has quality you can see.  We’ve upgraded the standard NITS rating, improved the graphic card, and added a night vision option.  The processor is more powerful and the mobile broadband option offers a greater choice of carriers.  Since we designed the DK10 to require minimal reconfiguring, upgrading your solution will be easy.  To preview the specs, click here