USA — Researchers Aim to Bring Smart Phones to Warfighters

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.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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