The Death of Keyboards & the Japanese Experience

Are keyboards dead?  In view of their ubiquity, and proven usefulness, this may seem to be an absurd question, but some people are considering this possibility. The success of the keyboard-less iPad in penetrating the business market was one of 2011’s big surprises. Also, in an interview in the IEEE Spectrum, journalist Sally Wiener-Grotta noted the impressive number of stylus interfaces on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES). She even cites studies that claim that when we use handwriting input, “… we absorb information better and we express information better…” Read more

The Return of the Smartphone Security Issue

As reported previously in this blog, the 2nd Network Integration Evaluation (NIE) appears to have successfully tested ARMY’s communication systems.  Not all the results were reassuring.  For example, there was some nasty feedback about the Nett Warrior.  Most surprising was that many warfighters claimed that they didn’t want or need a smartphone.  The ARMY’s smartphone program is threatened by other dangers as well. As noted in Wired, the smartphone could be a casualty of proposed Defense cuts. However, one of the most serious problems is the one that was identified in the earliest days of the program: security.

I haven’t heard too much about it from the ARMY recently, but some recent news items have raised the prominence of this issue: Read more

NIE Smartphone Results

The Army has just finished its second Network Integration Evaluation (NIE).  This large exercise appears to have accomplished its primary goals of accelerating the notoriously slow acquisition process, field-testing entire networks, and gathering valuable end-user feedback. Sometime massive bureaucratic efforts do work.

Although complete tactical communication systems were tested, the smartphones were the center of attention.  Some results are already filtering out. Read more

Did the Smartphone give ARMY the JTRS?

Recently the ARMY announced the cancellation of its current contract for the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Ground Mobile Radio System.  Did its highly publicized plans for a battlefield smartphone have something to it?

An uniformed person might think, “Sure, what does the ARMY need JTRS for, when they’re going for a smartphone?” Actually, the smartphone’s success depends on JTRS.

While security is usually described as the Number 1 concern for the battlefield phone, the lack of cellular service in potential combat zones has emerged as a major obstacle (Razorianfly).  Almost all the proposed solutions for dealing with connectivity are partial. Some of the more innovative solutions include installing cellular equipment on blimps, UAVs, and aerostats.  There’s even talk of a “cell tower in a suitcase.” Read more

Will Future Battlefield Computers be Futuristic?

futureRecently, some clients asked AMREL to build an Operator Control Unit (OCU) for their Unmanned Ground Vehicle.  No surprise there; we dominate that particular application.  What was noteworthy was the specific form factor that they requested.  They wanted it to be a wearable computer, worn on the wrist.

We ran a simple experiment with the clients.  We strapped a small computer to their wrist and had them run some typical UGV commands.  Soon, they discovered that their arms grew tired supporting the computer.  The clients agreed to have their OCU installed in the traditional, if less exotic, form factor of a handheld.

Notice that the wrist-mounted form factor wasn’t discarded for technological reasons. AMREL has become quite adept at developing small, powerful, ATOM-based computer platforms, which would be perfect for wearable solutions. Rather, this innovative approach was discarded, because the wrist form factor proved impractical for this particular use. Read more

Coast Guard Communication Solutions

uscgMaritime conditions are especially difficult for communications, and nowhere are they more important. Corrosive salt air, rough storms, and “dead areas” in the belly of a ship all conspire to damage critical equipment and sabotage the transmission of life-saving information. In the August issue of U.S. Coast Guard Forum, Roger that! reviews a variety of solutions for extending connectivity to all personnel, whether they are in the air, sea, or onboard a vessel. On page 26 of the article, AMREL’s Vice President of Strategic Business Development, Richard Lane, is interviewed about the adaption of innovative technologies for the needs of Coast Guard communications. Check it out!

The ARMY’s Smartphone may not always be a Smartphone

The Department of Defense is determined to field mobile devices that connect soldiers to networks for the rapid transmission of data. A number of forces have inspired this initiative:

  • Younger soldiers, by their own volition, are using their own smartphones and tablets whenever possible.
  •  The doctrine of network-centric warfare has upended the traditional paradigm of sending ISR to the rear echelons and is instead emphasizing delivering real-time info to the front lines.
  • Enemy forces have successfully used cell phones to relay information in their own networks. Read more’s ROCKY DB6 Video

Watch Ted Ventresca of interview Ron McMahan, VP Engineering Solutions at AMREL, about the ROCKY DB6, the world’s smallest rugged handheld that runs Windows 7/Linux.

Optimal Screen Size For Mobile Devices Used By Warfighters

What is the optimal screen size for a mobile device used by a warfighter?  Is it the 7″ to 12″ display of the tablet?  The 3″ to 5″ of the smartphone?  Something in-between?

With the exception of security issues, the folks at the Pentagon and other real-echelon postings do not work in situations that much different than their civilian counterparts.   For its stateside personnel, the Army can probably fulfill its ambitious smartphone program with whatever Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) products it chooses.

However, warfighters operate in much more demanding environment. Small differences can have huge consequences. Read more

Radio Control & Unmanned Systems Overview

The modern battlefield is full of robots all talking at once. Unmanned systems consume significant amounts of communications bandwidth because they require transmission of control signals and large amounts of sensor data. Line-of-sight (LOS) limitations often obstruct high frequency digital radio communications. In addition, encryption, which is necessary for security, can decrease operational distance.

Besides compromising range, radio noise may also affect how the robots respond toinstructions, even instigating false commands. Another consideration is the additional power consumption necessary to burst through interference.

Different types of unmanned systems have specific radio communication challenges….

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