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AMREL’s New Biometric Handheld – World’s Toughest & FBI Certified

AMREL has announced the FBI’s certification of XP7-ID, the world’s most rugged biometric handheld.xp7

“This is an important milestone not just for us, but for the security and law enforcement community,” explains Richard Lane, AMREL Vice President of Strategic Business Development. “This certification will expand access to the XP7-ID, which is quite simply the most rugged highly integrated biometric smartphone in the world,”

To be on this exclusive FBI’s Certified Products Listing, the XP7-ID was tested and found to be in compliance with the FBI’s Next Generation Identification (NGI) System Image Quality Specifications. The review of the test data was conducted by the Technology Evaluation Standards Test Unit, a part of the Biometric Center of Excellence led by the Criminal Justice Information Services Division.

“This certification is just one step on the XP7-ID journey into widespread adoption,” states Mr. Lane, “AMREL worked hard to create a ‘best of breed’ total solution platform that meets the needs of end-users. XP7-ID works on all the carrier networks including AT&T, Verizon, and FirstNet. XP7-ID has features that rival Push-To-Talk radios, live-scan booking stations, in-vehicle computers, as well as body-worn video cameras.”

AMREL developed the XP7-ID in cooperation with Integrated Biometrics. Fingerprints are captured by the industry-leading Sherlock, an Integrated Biometric module which utilizes a state-of-the-art Light Emitting Sensor.  This sensor is fully rugged, uses little power, needs less maintenance than traditional methods, and captures FAP-45 quality images.

“Integrated Biometrics is proud that our LES technology is part of the AMREL XP7-ID Biometric Smartphone, a rugged device serving mobile identity needs in any environment,” said Mike Grimes, President of Integrated Biometrics.

Although the XP7-ID is designed for use in a variety of situations, special measures were taken to serve the Public Safety community. When asked about this biometric device, Assistant Chief William ‘Bill’ Leist (Ret) California Highway Patrol replied, “The XP7-ID is designed to fit the needs of modern law enforcement. The enrollment capability for high quality fingerprint capture will save officers from making unnecessary trips to booking stations.  Furthermore, its exceptional ruggedness will ensure it will not break down at critical times.”

For system integrators as well as Automated Fingerprint Identification System (AFIS) software developers and vendors, the XP7-ID is the ultimate Android hardware solution platform. Supported with full application program interface (API), Software Development Kit (SDK) and developer portal, independent developers will be able to connect with every resource needed to build highest quality solutions for mobile identification.

Read more about the AMREL XP7-ID here.

Counter-Terrorism Lessons from Israel

As images of bloody bodies flow in from Brussels and Pakistan, we once again search for an appropriate response to the horror of a successful terrorist attack. Some people call for revenge. Others declare liberties are a luxury that we can no longer afford. Many seem stunned into inaction. What are we to do?

At AMREL, we watch these events with keen interest. Of course, like all citizens, we are concerned about terrorism, but we also wonder what our role will be in future counter-terrorism efforts. We have been supplying warfighters and security personnel with rugged mobile computing solutions for over 30 years. What will we be called on to supply next?  Will we be asked for our mobile biometric devices? Our Defense solutions?  Our Public Safety equipment? Something completely new?

I watch these events with a sickening sense of familiarity. I lived in Israel at a time of intense terrorist activity.  No country in world has been more subjected to terrorism than Israel. None take their security more seriously than Israel does.

While living there, I had an opportunity to see firsthand a country fighting terror every day. I also had numerous conversations about terrorism with Israeli intelligence, government, and military professionals (this isn’t unusual; Israel is a small country where everyone knows everyone else).

The following represents some of the lessons that I learned about terrorism while living in Israel.

Even under continuous terrorist threat, it is possible to have a free society. Of everything I experienced in Israel, this was the thing that impressed me the most. Despite a wide range of security measures, and a state of constant hyper-vigilance, Israel enjoys a robust, free-wheeling democracy. Israel may have an impressive multi-layered security regime, but Israelis did not seem intimidated by it in the slightest. Certainly, it did not restrain them from loudly expressing their opinions about the government in general and politicians in particular.

Of course, I write this as someone who is not an Arab. Arab citizens bitterly complain of discrimination. Jews counterclaim that Arabs living in Israel are freer there than they are in any other country in the Middle East.

I am not qualified to discuss the experiences of Israeli Arabs. If you wish to learn about their life in Israel, I strongly recommend the outrageously funny television show, Arab Labor. Written by an Israeli Arab, it humorously explores the bizarre experiences of living as suspected minority in a society dominated by terrorist fear. You can watch it online in a number of places, including here.

Most of impositions to liberty seem relatively trivial. In Israel, I had to carry an internal passport at all times. Can you imagine the howls from both the Left and the Right if the federal government tried to impose a system of national identification here? It’s not that Israelis are less jealous of their liberties than Americans (if anything, they distrust their government more), it’s just that they’re more accepting of the necessity of security measures. Carrying an internal passport all the time is really no different than how I teat my drivers license in the US.

Profiling works, just not in the way that you think it does. I have heard self-appointed “security experts” envy the Israeli freedom in profiling Arab minorities.

Of course, Israeli officials target Arabs for extra security measures. And young European women as well. Several years ago there was a highly publicized incident in which a terrorist tricked a young Irish woman into carrying a bomb aboard an airplane. Ever since then, Israeli security at airports carefully screens single young women. I knew one foreign visitor who had an Israeli acquaintance accompany her to airports and pretend to be her boyfriend, specifically so she could avoid the extra level of scrutiny.

Do not assume profiling will not apply to you, because…

Everybody is profiled. It’s very simple. If security only subjected Arabs to extra inspections, then terrorists would use people who didn’t look like Arabs. If security places restrictions on young men, then terrorists use women. If both young men and women are subjected to extra scrutiny, then terrorists would use old folks.

Several times a year, a high level representative of a church or government complains to a local Israeli newspaper about the “outrageous” security measures he endured at an Israeli airport. I always laugh at these tirades, because the measures he describes are the exact same ones that I and everyone else must undergo.

The next time you see a grandmother in a wheelchair being searched at an airport, don’t bemoan it as political correctness gone amuck. It’s simple common sense. Security personnel have learned what the classic cartoon Pogo once so wisely observed, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”

Bigotry is a poor counter-terrorist strategy. Very few genuine counter-terrorists experts in the United States embrace the view that all Arabs or all Moslems are our enemy. They are fully aware that Arabs and Moslems are the primary victims of radicalized Islamic terror, and serve as our allies (if uneasy ones) in the war against terror.

In Israel, “They all want to kill us” is an extremely popular view. However, this hasn’t stopped Israeli military and intelligence from cooperating with Palestinian authorities on counter-terrorists actions. It’s not unusual to read a complaint from the Israeli Prime Minister’s office about the Palestinian leadership inciting violence, while in the same newspaper the head of an Army unit is quoted as praising his Palestinian counterpart for a successfully destroying a terrorist cell.

Painting all Moslems or Arabs with the same terrorist brush turns assets into liabilities and converts allies into enemies. We have to be smarter than that.

Kabuki theater works. Waiting in line to enter a mall while some under-paid guard searches backpacks and women’s purses, someone will inevitably comment that these inconvenient security measures are stupid and pointless. No determined terrorist would be deterred by these farcically ineffective procedures.

Except that they are. I’ve read interviews with would-be suicide bombers and other terrorists about their thought processes as they prepare to attack. A major factor in their consideration is the same silly security measures that are widely mocked. What seems stupid to us, is intimidating to a terrorist.

Terrorism is the new normal. While writing this article, I talked to a people who had traveled through the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and South Korea. Each of these countries has experienced problems with terrorism and has instituted counter-measures.

Along with cell phones, television, and the internet, magnetic wands and metal detectors are the technologies that will define our time.

Terrorists adapt. Every few years Israel experiences waves of terror. A while back, suicide bombers were a problem. At the time, the problem seemed insurmountable. None of Israel’s traditional security methods seemed effective.

So, Israel developed new security methods. Among other things, they built a highly controversial security wall to keep out terrorists. Israelis increased surveillance on possible terrorists and with more help from the Palestinian security services than they like to admit, this particular wave of attacks has been thwarted. Deaths and incidents died down.

And then they started again. It hasn’t gotten much publicity in this country, but Israel is undergoing what is sometimes referred to as the “Lone Wolf” Intifada. Individuals, seemingly unconnected to any organization, are randomly stabbing people. In the last 6 months, 34 Israelis have been killed and 404 have been wounded.

Just like with earlier wave of terrorism, no one seems to know what to do. No one is sure what will be effective countermeasures. Despite the anxieties being expressed now in the Israeli media, I have no doubt that Israel’s highly motivated security establishment will eventually devise effective defense actions.

Unfortunately, their enemies will then figure out a new way of attacking them. In a war of terror, the side that is the most innovative and flexible will always have the advantage.

Nine Defense Questions for the Next President

If you were to hire a CEO for a company with a budget of $600+ billion, wouldn’t you ask them some questions about it?  Wouldn’t you want to know if they were familiar with company’s programs, and how they intend to manage them?

Evidently, the media and politicians don’t think so.  Sure, Senator Sanders has bragged about his bill to help veterans, and many politicians have vowed to strengthen the military. However, no one is asking the candidates the most basic questions about how they intend to oversee Defense spending, which is approximately half the Federal budget.

Here is a list of questions that I think every candidate should be asked.  None of them concern trivial matters and all reflect actual decisions the next president will have to make. A presidential answer to any of these questions would profoundly affect strategic thinking in capitals all around the world and cause billions of dollars (if not more) to change hands.

  1. Drawdown With the wind down of our involvement in Asian land wars, the ARMY is experiencing a personnel drawdown. As president would you continue this drawdown? If not, then how do you justify maintaining the ARMY’s larger size in the current world situation? If you would continue the drawdown, how would you do it?  Would you do it the way that it was done in the 1990s with an early retirement program, or would you limit recruitment of new enlistees?
  2. Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) Funding Our recent wars have been funded through the OCO.  Would you continue doing this, or would you fund future military operations through the main Defense budget? How would your decision affect sequestration?
  3. F-35 The F-35 program has been heavily criticized and there have even been calls for its cancellation. Do you intend to keep the F-35 program or cancel it?  If you intend to maintain it, how would you improve it? If you intend to cancel it, what would you replace it with?
  4. Procurement reform  While the people who work in acquisition may be professional and honest, the Defense procurement process itself has a terrible reputation. How do you plan to reform defense acquisition?
  5. Redundancy Do you think that redundancy is a problem in the Pentagon? If you do not think it is, then you’re an idiot and no further questions are necessary. If you do think it is a problem, how do you do plan to deal with it?
  6. “Pacific Tilt” Do you plan to implement the current administration’s “Pacific Tilt?” How will your decision affect Defense spending priorities?
  7. Pentagon audit Contrary to federal law, the Department of Defense has never passed an audit. They do not even have relational database for their inventory.  As president, how do plan to deal with this problem?  Do you support the Audit the Pentagon Act of 2015, which was co-sponsored by Senators Sanders and Cruz?
  8. War on terror How do perceive the military’s role in the War on Terror? How would this affect spending priorities?
  9. Budget Do you plan to increase or decrease Defense spending? What funding do you plan to cut?  Where do you plan to increase spending?

By the way, I think a perfectly fine answer to some of these questions is “I do not know.” The President is Commander-in-Chief, not a miracle worker.  But we should expect him to have at least a cursory familiarity with these challenges, and he should give us an idea of he would manage them.  AMREL has an interest in Defense management, since we have been supplying warfighters with customized mobile rugged computer solutions for over 30 years. Along with you, we will be very closely watching this election and our new president.

Mobile Weapons Control Station [VIDEO]

AMREL is well known for its Operator Control Units for Unmanned Ground Vehicles.  We also make control systems for other kinds of solutions as well.  Nicknamed “the DK Flipper,” this dual-screen mobile weapons control station has a separate display for power and video input. This customized DK10 tablet acts as a force multiplier by enabling a single person to control several Remotely Operated Weapon Stations (ROWS).

tablet-dk-flipper.3

Check out this video of the DK Flipper in action,

controlling a .50 caliber machine gun.

What the heck is an Unmanned Ground Engineering Vehicle?

Recently, Tom Green, founder and editor-in-chief of Robotics Business Review put on a webinar about an Unmanned Ground Engineering Vehicle (UGEV).  Before I explain what a UGEV is, a little background.

In the webinar, Tom Green noted that we are soon approaching the fifth anniversary of the Fukushima accident and the thirtieth of the Chernobyl disaster. He said that 60,000 Russian (and Ukrainian) workers were exposed to radiation at Chernobyl and that 6,000 have since died (BTW, the exact number of casualties form this accident is fervently debated). Many were critically exposed when they operated vehicles to dump thousands of tons of concrete on the nuclear plant itself. Vehicles are pictured below:

UGEV chernobyl

To this day, Green noted, these vehicles are still too irradiated to use.  Obviously, many casualties could be avoided if the proper unmanned systems were available. He wondered if anyone had developed an appropriate system. (The lack of nuclear disaster robots was discussed in this blog in: Where are the Japanese robots ).

Unmanned systems operating in nuclear disasters have all sorts of problems. Radiation affects their CCD (electronic light sensor) and other electronics. Clearing away the concrete and rubble can be a formidable task. Green went in search for what he called a “tough boy.”

He found one in Tel Aviv. Agritechnique Engineering had developed what is described as an Unmanned Ground Engineering Vehicle (UGEV). Specifically created to operate in nuclear disasters, this UGEV can move as fast as 20KM per hour, has one of the strongest undercarriages on the market, can breach doors, beak down walls, and has a boom that lifts two tons. Built by Avner Opperman (CEO of Agritechnique) who has 40 years of earth-moving experience, Green enthusiastically proclaimed that he had found his “tough boy.”UGEV 1

By far the coolest thing about the UGEV is its versatility. The boom can be fitted with up to 80 different tools, including hydraulic hammers, cutting discs, clamps, and buckets. Carried in attached storage compartments, tools have their own IP. The boom can autonomously switch tools out in the field, matching them to their appropriate tasks. A fully automatic quick coupler hydraulic assembly utilizes the tools with 2 x 55° tilt and endless 360° range of motion.UGEV coupler assembly

Opperman designed the flexible tool system with the idea that the UGEV could perform multiple tasks, and be capable of adapting to a wide a variety of needs as they occurred in the field. He wanted an unmanned system that could replace the many different kinds that are used now in disasters.

View video below.

UGEV specs

You can read also about it in Robotics Business Review.

My first reaction to the UGEV was favorable. It reminded me of the Flexbay and Flexpedient concepts that AMREL had successfully incorporated into our mobile rugged platforms. We created Operator Control Units with Flexbays that enabled personnel to switch applications in the field. The military loved how it increased operational range and simplified logistics. They deployed thousands in theater. Similarly, our Flexpedient® AT80 tablets can be modified to a wide variety of applications, enabling quick customization. New product developers have seized upon it as a way of getting their solutions to market faster and more economically.

However, it’s one thing to create mobile rugged computer platforms that are interoperable and flexible. It is another to build a vehicle that is an “all in one” unit, i.e. one that replaces a heterogeneous collection of unmanned systems as Opperman advocates.

While UGEV undoubtedly looks capable of clearing away debris and pouring cement (which is what Green was looking for), can it really replace the mixed lot of unmanned systems that are currently used?  Is it even a good idea?   For one thing, the UGEV is big.  It’s 13 feet long and almost 6 feet wide. It’s difficult to imagine it fitting into the narrower spaces in the interior areas of some nuclear plants.

I am not an expert in disaster robotics, but Dr. Robin Murphy of Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) is.  She has written that for disasters: “ground robots are generally not useful” (CRASAR).  She has also said that “…there is not a single robot that will work for all missions” (CRASAR).

The biggest problem with the UGEV – and all disaster robotics – is that no one wants to pay for them. Writing for Slate William Slaeton noted, “Power companies want cheap robots that can replace workers and are always useful. They don’t want robots expensively equipped to handle unlikely nightmare scenarios.”  They prefer the time-tested technique of pretending nothing bad will ever happen.

What do you think?  Is the UGEV the revolution that Green and Opperman think it is, or is it a technological dead-end? Send us your opinions to editor@amrel.com  (please note that your messages may be used in future blog posts).

How to buy the right biometric device

Biometrics is of one the world’s most important emerging technologies. They are used to accurately identify criminals, disburse benefits, manage events, protect financial transactions, authorize access, and fight fraud.  If you are considering buying a biometric device, here are a few questions that you need to ask.

1) Do you need to read this article? Most biometric transactions are described as verifications, i.e. are you who you say you are? An example would be laptops and smartphones that have a fingerprint sensor that identifies authorized users. Verification can be performed by relativity simple technologies. A much more challenging application is enrollment, in which biometric information from an individual is captured and stored. Purchasing and deploying an enrollment device involves a very complex evaluative process, poses numerous risks, and may incur unforeseen expenses. If you are looking for a mobile enrollment device, this article is for you.

2) Do you need an enrollment device that is mobile? Mobile biometric devices save time, money, and hassle. Consider the following three scenarios:

• Forward-based soldiers enrolling the inhabitants of a village.

• Policemen enrolling a suspect in the field.

• Event managers enrolling clients at an entertainment/sports venue.

In each of the above examples, mobile frees the workers from the chore of ferrying the enrollees back to a base/station/office to use a stationary biometric device. For most applications, the mobility of an enrollment device is an enormous advantage.

In spite of the benefits, many project managers discard the possibility of a mobile biometric device that has enrollment capabilities, because they believe the technological difficulties are too great or costly. This is unfortunate because economic, practical solutions are available.

3) What modality do you want? Biometric modalities include fingerprint, palm veins, facial recognition, DNA, palm print, iris recognition, retina and odor/scent.

By far and away, the most established, popular, and practical modality is fingerprinting. Fingerprints have the largest, most complete databases available, which is an enormous advantage for the purposes of identification. However, fingerprints have their problems. The fingerprints of the elderly and farm workers have been known to become so worn that they are unusable. This is one reason that it is strongly recommended that your biometric device is multimodal. In addition, using more than one modality reduces the problems of noisy data, “spoofing”(fraud), and unacceptable error rates.

Iris and facial recognition are popular complementary modalities to fingerprinting, but you need to evaluate the specific needs of your application. For example, police like cameras, so they can take pictures of gang tattoos. If you are deploying a biometric device for financial applications in Japan, palm vein, which is popular there, would warrant serious consideration.

4) Do I need a device with multiple fingerprint enrollment capability? Experts strongly recommended enrolling more than one finger. Minor injuries and temporary disabilities can compromise the usability of captured images of a single finger.

5) Do you need access to large databases? This really depends on your application. For example, I use a fingerprint sensor to obtain access to my gym. I assume that my gym doesn’t care about interacting with larger databases that local and national governments use to track criminals. They only want to compare my fingerprints with their client list. However, police departments, FBI, and the Department of Homeland Security need to exchange data with other government databases.

Keep in mind special requirements for specific applications. For example, police departments may need compliance with FirstNet standards. Military applications may need special encryption capabilities. More than one buyer has had to replace their entire line of recently purchased biometric devices because they did not meet the requirements for interaction with large databases.

6) What are the requirements for accesses to national and local databases? The most commonly used national database, the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Information System (IAFIS), has very strict standards for the Electronic Fingerprint Templates (EFT) that it accepts. Standards include FAP-45 (Appendix F) and PIV. FAP-45 is the stricter “high-throughput” standard; it is the one that is most likely to affect busy institutional use.

7) How important is the quality of the fingerprint images that my device captures? Very. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) research revealed that image quality directly impacts identification match accuracy. By deploying the highest quality sensors on the most reliable platforms, you can reduce missed identifications/verifications of a subject, additional secondary workload processes, and overall examiner workloads.

8) What kind of fingerprint sensor should I look for? Get a device with a Light Emitting Sensor (LES) sensor. LES multilayer, polymer composite film resists abrasion, operates at extreme temperatures, and isn’t affected by fog or condensation. Unlike traditional optical sensors, direct and bright sunlight do not diminish its ability to capture high quality fingerprint images. Compared to  old-fashion systems, the LES sensor is less sensitive to oils left behind from previous users; other sensors need to be cleaned after each capture.

9) What kind of mobile platform should I look for? Get a rugged device; preferably one with a high IP rating and has met military environmental standards, such as MIL-STD 810. You will spend more on the initial cost, but will save in the long run on repair, lost data, downtime, and lost work hours. Public safety officers, relief workers, and warfighters work in harsh environments. They need devices that can get dirty, get wet, take a beating, and still successfully operate.

If you can answer the above questions, you are ready to get started in your search for a mobile enrollment device. Of course, there are many other factors to be considered. If you have any questions, feel free to contact one of AMREL Application Engineers at (800) 8826735.

For over 30 years, AMREL has been a leader in developing highly reliable, fully rugged mobile solutions that operate in the most demanding environments. We supply more than multi-modal handhelds for collection, enrollment, and identification; we provide a generation of expertise.  We customize even low-volume orders to craft solutions that are perfect for your needs. See our complete line of biometric devices here.

What to look for in 2016

Recently, I read several articles that listed predictions, e.g. “Top Ten security Risks in 2016.”  Like everyone else who services Defense and Security industries, AMREL is always looking ahead to see what products and services will be in demand.

What I noticed is that none of the articles predicted the big stories of 2016 that have already happen, i.e. the crumbling stock market and collapsing oil prices.  Rather than make predictions, I decided to analyze these events and their implications for the year ahead.

 

Oil

As has been widely reported, oil prices have slumped because of Saudi Arabia’s aggressive campaign to wipe out fracking. Fracking and other non-traditional methods of oil extraction have resulted in unprecedented levels of North American oil production.  Fracking is expensive; oil needs to be around $60 or $70 a barrel for it to be economical. Saudi’s aggressive pumping of cheap oil has pushed it down the price of a barrel to around $30. This has caused a massive reduction of capital investments and extensive layoffs in the fracking industry, which is what Saudi Arabia wants.

 

Stock market

Why has cheap oil caused the stock market to decline? Obviously, oil companies are suffering from the Saudi campaign, and this is a drag on the whole market. Some argue that eventually the economic benefits of cheaper oil will become so evident than even the famously manic-depressive stock market will have to notice them.

However, the other possible cause of oil’s price decline is what is really spooking the financial markets. China drives the world’s economy, especially with its voracious appetites for raw materials. Nobody believes the Chinese government’s official statistics, so businessmen are always looking for indications of the true state of its economy. If oil prices are low, that means their economy is not demanding as much, which means that it is slowing down. That means a lesser demand for raw materials, and that means bad times for all.  Add to this that Brazil, a major supplier of raw goods to China, is having serious problems, and you got yourself a worldwide economic freak out.

 

What does this mean for Defense industries?

How will the Chinese government react to its economic slowdown? After all, the Communist Party has held onto power partly through China’s unparalleled economic growth rates. How will they placate their citizens who expect and demand upward mobility? The Party could enact political and economic reforms that will enable true transparency, genuine economic freedom, and an elimination of the near-surrealistic levels of smothering corruption.

Sorry about that last sentence. I needed a good laugh. What the Chinese leadership has done in recent years and will probably do in the future when faced with a discontented public is foment nationalism and beat the drums of war.

Educated Chinese still talk about the “century of humiliation” when Japan and Western powers carved up China like a roast turkey. Nationalistic pride is a raw nerve easily aggravated, especially when it comes to matters of territorial claims.

Consider:

  • China is heavily dependent on trade.
  • United States Navy is capable of enforcing choke points of China’s major trade routes in the South China Sea.
  • China has border disputes with virtually every one of its neighbors (not an exaggeration).
  • China is aggressively ramping up its naval capabilities.

The United States us fully aware of this situation and has tried to shift its military resources in the so-called “Pacific Tilt.”  Good news for Defense firms that supply Naval needs. No so good for those that supply land-based military needs.

I am not suggesting that there will be a war between a China and the US. Nobody wants that (it should be pointed out, however, that historically “what everybody wants” has very little to do with whether or not a war starts). But what it does mean is a build-up of military assets and equipment.

I am also assuming that the United Sates will be able to avoid further major land-based operations in the Middle East.  After the expensive, inconclusive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the American public simply has no appetite for another lengthy ground battle.

 

Three things to look for in 2016

  • California real estate prices. The phenomenon of cash-rich overseas Chinese investors buying up California real estate is so well known that it is practically a cliché. If the Chinese economy is really in trouble, and the threat of war looms large, expect the already insanely expensive housing market in the Golden State to heat up further as wealthy Chinese seek safe harbor for their assets.
  • Marines get busy. Satirist Tom Lehr says it best:

When someone makes a move
Of which we don’t approve,
Who is it that always intervenes?
UN and OAS,
They have their place, I guess,
But first send the Marines!

If America is serious about a show of force in the South Chinese Sea, expect to see Uncle Sam’s Misguided Children (USMC) conducting training missions on remote rocky atolls. Also, keep track of aircraft carriers, Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles, the DF-5 (Chinese ICBM) and other technologies that may be used in coming Pacific face-off.

  • Syrian peace talks. Just because we don’t want to fight a major land war in the Middle East, doesn’t mean that we won’t. Right now, the region resembles a live action version of the board game Risk. No sensible, rational person would want to get mixed up in this unholy mess. So, we can’t rule out US involvement.

The Russians are supporting the brutal Syrian dictator Assad. They are dragging their feet in the Syrian peace talks, trying to gain military advantage before any final settlement. However, the Russians have their own troubles. European sanctions against them for their Ukrainian intervention, low prices on their only economic asset (oil) and the fact that achieving a meaningful military intervention in the Middle East is like trying to sweep back the ocean with a broom are just few problems that might force them to negotiate peace in earnest. Keep in mind that the Russian government is unprincipled, sociopathic and thuggish.  This means they will be easier to deal with than the other players in the Middle East.

Speaking of unprincipled, thuggish, sociopaths, it looks like Iran has decided to play nice. The kerfuffle with the captured American sailors could have been a lot worse. Yes, Iran violated international law with the humiliating videotape of the sailors’ capture and forced apology. But this is nothing compared to the grand drawn-out comic farce it could have been.  Within days the sailors were released and all naval equipment was returned.

Please note the economic benefits of the nuclear deal will be slow in coming. The deal only removes some of the sanctions against Iran. Oil is at an all-time low. Iranian pumping infrastructure is old and rusty. The $100 billion dollars unfrozen assts that you may have heard about is an exaggeration; Iran owes a lot of that money to other countries. Money is a powerful motive to get along with your neighbors and curtail military actions.

Furthermore, the US is circulating rumors that Iran has withdrawn most of its forces from Syria. Other rumors indicate that Iranian involvement with Syria is deeply unpopular with the Iranian public.

The Syrian war is by far the most dangerous conflict in that part of the world (even more so than the Israeli-Palestinian one). A peace agreement, even a flawed one, would be an enormously stabilizing event. While it may be farfetched, it is not a possibility that can be dismissed out of hand.

 

AMREL’S role

We haven’t noticed any dramatic change in the nature of our purchasing orders. Whatever the Defense needs will be this year, we will meet them. For over 30 years AMREL has supplied customized rugged solutions to the Defense market.

While we are best known for supplying land forces, we also have provided equipment to the Navy, Coast Guard, and Marines.  They appreciate the durability of computer platforms in surviving humidity, salt fog, and other challenges of a marine environment. In fact, January’s Customization of the Month features a push-to-talk handheld that we did for the futuristic DDG. Read about it here. We don’t just sell rugged computers. We sell rugged customized solutions.

What do you think? Got any predictions you want?  Write editor@amrel.com.

 

New ROCKY DB7 – Smallest, Fully Rugged, Handheld with Windows 7

AMREL announces the release of the ROCKY DB7 — an upgrade of the smallest, lightest, fully rugged handheld that can support standard Windows 7 and Linux Operating Systems (OS).

“The big difference is the new Intel® Atom™ processor,” explains Javier Camarillo, AMREL’s Senior Application Engineer. “The DB7 is a small platform designed for big applications, which can be very data heavy. So we added a more powerful processor and doubled the memory.”

The Intel® Atom™ processor consumes very little energy, which means the lightweight DB7 can run the same OS and applications as a laptop, but with significantly longer battery life. This reduces logistical burdens for field work and eliminates the need to modify standard programming for mobile devices.

“The DB7 platform was developed in response to the military’s emphasis on networking,” explains Mr. Camarillo. “They want real-time ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) data in the hands of the warfighter. This creates a need for a handheld computer that can transmit large encrypted files, operate in harsh combat conditions, and is small enough to fit into a cargo pants pocket. Despite its small size, the ROCKY DB7 has multiple configurable I/O ports.”

The ROCKY DB7 has been independently certified to meet military standards for ruggedness, including MIL-STDs 810G and 461F. The new DB7 has had its IP rating upgraded to an exceptionally rigorous 65. It is also fully compliant to FIPS 140-2, the encryption standard.

“Even though the ROCKY DB7 was originally designed for the challenging environments faced by Dismounted Infantry and Special Operation Teams, some civilians have done amazing things with it,” stated Mr. Camarillo. “We had one research scientist drag it through miles of an underground cave system. He needed a computer that was powerful, light to carry, and could survive brutal conditions, so the ROCKY DB7 was perfect.” Read how the DB7 helped install a sensor network in an extensive cave system at:  amrel.com/?p=5953

Some of ROCKY DB7’s target applications include Tactical Communications, Mobile Biometrics, and Robotic Command & Control. In addition, civilians are exploring its adoption for:

  • Utilities
  • Industrial
  • Construction
  • Mining
  • Test & Measurement
  • Fire
  • Health Safety
  • Insurance

Learn more about the ROCKY DB7 at computers.amrel.com/rocky-db7

Russia’s Armed Unmanned Vehicle [VIDEO]

Check out the video below of Uran-9, the new Russian unmanned armored vehicle.

Pretty impressive, isn’t it? This thing packs:

  • 30mm 2A72 automatic cannon
  • Coaxial 7.62mm machine gun
  • Ataka Anti-Tank Guided Missiles

According to Defense Talk, it has “a laser warning system and target detection, identification and tracking equipment.”

Russia has big plans to promote Uran-9 in the international market where it “…will be particularly useful during local military and counter-terror operations, including those in cities.”

Not to be too much of a wet blanket, but why would anyone buy this?  Russia says that it will reduce personnel casualties, one of the prime benefits of unmanned systems.  I wonder if this is true.  For one thing, the remote operators are located in a mobile command unit. Is that safer than an armored vehicle? Is the operating range so great that the remote operators are significantly out of harm’s way?

For Russia’s target market, how significant are personnel casualties? The US is obviously not going to buy it (for one thing the American version would be called UranUS and yes, I wrote this whole article so I could use this joke). America pours a lot of money into its soldiers, so that they are the most expensive piece of equipment on any given battlefield. Other countries also invest a lot in their soldiers, but none do as much as the US. I bet for many countries, the loss of an armored vehicle is more expensive than the personnel casualties.  I realize that this sounds cold blooded, but as commanders decide where to commit their limited resources, they will do these calculations. Will they want to pay more for a system that has a greater number of points of failure?

Furthermore, there is a good chance that there will be no cost savings for personnel, even if an operator could drive multiple vehicles. The installation and maintenance of the mobile command center as well as the remote control systems themselves will require highly trained personnel.

Also, what will be the situational awareness of the remote operator as compared to one actually inside the vehicle? As a rule, remote operators have less. Will that leave the vehicle more vulnerable?

Of course, my doubts may be completely unfounded, and this thing may sell better than iPhones. But I can’t help feeling that this vehicle was designed not for practical reasons, but because somebody somewhere thought unmanned systems were cool.

I asked Richard Barrios, ex-Marine Ammo tech and aficionado of all things that go BOOM, to take a look at the video.  He agreed that the ordinance was impressive, but pointed out that the Geneva Convention prohibited these particular weapons from being used on personnel (as opposed to tanks and similar platforms).  This puts a crimp in Russia’s assertion that this is a counter-terrorist weapon. Richard and I agreed that Russia and its clients probably will not care about this particular problem.

Richard suggested that this might be a good defense vehicle for a base. I countered that there were cheaper and more practical alternatives. Richard agreed and said that he preferred Precision Remote’s .50 caliber M2 remote-controlled solution (see video here). BTW,  in the video you can see the ROCKY DK Rugged Tablet being used as a control unit for this .50 caliber solution.

Richard likes the Russian armored UGV, but like me, he harbors doubts about the usefulness of this platform as compared to a manned one. “I wouldn’t want to take it to war,” he said. “But I would want it as a toy.”

How to sell robots to the military

Recently, I was asked to answer a question on the social media site Quora.   I was asked, “How does a person get their robot design/prototype bought by the U.S. military?”  Here is my answer:

This is one of those “if you have to ask, forget about it” questions. Selling to the American military is a world in itself, and your best bet is to partner with someone who has direct experience with Defense acquisition.

I work for AMREL (American Reliance). It makes rugged computers that are the platforms for Operator Control Units for Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV). While I have never directly dealt with military procurement, I have had many conversations with salesmen who have.

Keeping in mind that I am not an expert, this is my general impression of what is involved:

  • Target the specific bureaucracy: What kind of unmanned system you make will determine who you sell it to. ARMY likes Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (TUAV). The NAVY’s Advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robotic System (AEODRS) is responsible for IED-detecting UGVs. The AIR FORCE flies the big Predator drones that you hear so much about in the news. (BTW, as you can tell from this paragraph, be prepared to learn acronyms. LOTS of acronyms.)

Keep in mind that the Department of Defense (DoD) is a bit like the universe, i.e. big, mysterious, and mostly invisible. Finding out who might want to buy your robot and who is the appropriate person to contact can be challenging.

  • Ninety percent of sales is listening: Nowhere is this more true than in military sales. I don’t care if your robot can travel backwards in time, and makes non-fattening chocolate cake; if it doesn’t meet their requirements, the DoD is not interested. Find out what THEY want and then make it. From time to time, various elements of military hold public events that vendors can attend. Sometimes it’s just a table-top tradeshow or big-time demos like the Robot Rodeo. These are valuable places to gain info. Do a net search, plan your travel itinerary, print up some datasheets, and above all LISTEN.
  • Be prepared to make changes, LOTS of changes: If the military is interested in your robot, it will go through an enormous amount of testing and approvals. This can take quite a bit of time. Large weapon systems have been known to spend decades in development. With every stage, you will receive feedback about what needs to be altered. End-user feedback is considered especially critical.
  • Be prepared to spend money: Traveling around the country and preparing the appropriate documentation are expensive undertakings. And that’s not even counting the expense of multiple prototypes. AMREL has carved out a niche for itself in customizations of rugged computers for low volume orders with low-to-no NRE. This enables developers to make economical prototypes for the reiterative development process.
  • You may end up selling to a big Defense contractor, rather than directly to the DoD. These guys are called “primes.” If you are making a garlic-sniffing submersible unmanned system, and Fat Cat, inc. holds the contract for this kind of robot, you have to sell to them. Just as you need to learn the intricate labyrinthine ways of the DoD, you are going to have to study the quaint and colorful traditions of Fat Cat if you want to do business with them. There are advantages and disadvantages to selling to primes, which is a whole other answer.
  • Be prepared to spend lots of time. I was at a conference in which about half a dozen representatives of Defense primes were up on a stage answering questions. When asked “How long does it take to get a contract,” the average answer was 5 years.
  • Make your robot cheap. The DoD may have more money than anyone else, but it’s under enormous pressure to be economical. They want solutions that save money.
  • Can you buy parts for your robots off the shelf? The DoD used to spend big bucks on specialty items. Not anymore. They want to buy parts at the local big box store. The magic word is “Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS).”
  • Does your robot work and play well with others? In this case, the magic word is “interoperability.” AMREL has been able to dominate the OCU market, because we came up with an interoperable solution that worked on multiple UGVs. Other companies created proprietary control systems that worked only on one robot. This caused a logistical nightmare for the DoD.
  • Don’t believe the headlines about corruption and incompetence. Yes, the Defense procurement process is a mess. Why is a whole other answer. But it’s not the fault of typical DoD personnel. By and large the people you encounter in the military and Defense are smart, dedicated, and honest. They are haunted by the specter that the equipment they procure may result in the death of American servicemen. If you have a product that can save lives, then you might just have yourself a sale.