Researchers Aim to Bring Smart Phones to Warfighters
By Christen N. McCluney
Emerging Media, Defense Media Activity
WASHINGTON, Dec. 2, 2010 Army researchers are working to develop smart-phone technology to aid warfighters in tactical environments.
In a Nov. 30 “DOD Live” bloggers roundtable, Tony Fiuza of the Army Research, Development and Engineering Command’s communications-electronics center described ongoing efforts that include a program called MACE -- short for “multi-access communications extender” -- which develops a tactical communications infrastructure that can support bringing smart phones to the battlefield.
“This is a huge challenge in that we have a security challenge for the communications network and the devices themselves,” he said.
A separate effort is under way to develop applications for those devices, Fiuza said. Security involving the applications is important, he said, and researchers are working on architectural issues that come into play with downloading the applications and making sure they are secure and free of viruses or malicious code.
Another issue is figuring out the concept of operation, he added -- will every soldier receive a device, and when will they be allowed to use it?
“We're just starting to look at what can you do with the smart phone and [to] leverage all the research that's been done on the commercial wireless side and adapt that to a military environment that is much more austere than the commercial environment,” he said.
Large cell towers are readily available in the commercial market, Fiuza said, but Army researchers are looking at more tactical and mobile solutions in working to bring the technology to austere tactical environments.
“You want to be able to take that same kind of capability and bring it down to something the size of a small dormitory refrigerator or even smaller, with an antenna that you can mount inside a vehicle or that you can mount using a transit case, and have that be your base station,” he explained.
The mobile capability would provide local connectivity between cell phones and smart phones and also provide a server for applications, Fiuza said. That base station would then be connected to a military network or to other base stations.
“We're working with various organizations across the Army and [the Defense Department] to try and frame what we can do and what we should do, and using our tech development money to develop a capability that can be used on tactical battlefields safely.”
Fiuza said he hopes that the researchers can demonstrate within a year a smart-phone capability on a tactical network tied to a mobile network that’s tied to a military backbone.
“Our goal is to then have that capability set at a baseline, and then bring in new capability as it is provided by commercial industry,” he said.
“Initially we're probably going to focus on 3G technology as it comes in, and bring that capability in as a baseline,” he said. Then, as the commercial side evolves to LTE -- which is the 4G version, which is a very different technology -- let's try and pull that into what we're doing in MACE, evolve MACE and bring that in quickly.”
Fiuza said that the plan is to work with the initial start-up and continue to evolve the capability as technology evolves on the commercial side.
“As new technologies come out on the commercial side, we want to quickly bring them in, adapt it to what we want to do on the military side and then deploy it,” he said.
Instead of developing phones, Fiuza said, the plan is to use commercial smart phones and modify them as needed to make them more rugged on the exterior. “We’re taking a very broad view of it,” he said. “We're not saying we've got to design our own military-specific cell phone.”
Researchers are bringing great focus to the effort, Fiuza told the bloggers.
“It's an area we're committed to,” he said. “It's something we're going to be doing for a very long time, but the focus is we want to make sure we do this intelligently.”