DARPA's Unattended Ground Sensor uses smartphone techology
By David Szondy
June 5, 2013
Modern warfare is becoming more and more a battle of information and sensors. The trouble is, while the needs of the digital warrior are growing rapidly, military sensors take three to eight years to develop while private industry can produce similar technology in only one or two years. This is not only inefficient, but means that military sensors tend to lag behind mission needs. In the hope of speeding things up, DARPA’s Adaptable Sensor System (ADAPT) program is looking to smartphone technologies and practices to create new ground sensors.
ADAPT’s purpose is to develop low-cost common Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) hardware and software for mission-specific applications. To achieve this, DARPA is concentrating on three areas. The first is a reusable hardware core that uses low-cost, off-the-shelf commercial components, so the sensors remain a par with current state-of-the-art technology. To achieve this DARPA is taking a page from smartphone companies by using Original Design Manufacturers (ODMs), who provide products and components for other companies to include in their product lines, instead of using a specific manufacturer under contract.
The second is reusable software: the development of a common software for processing, storage, communications, orientation and other tasks that can be adapted for specific missions. Many smartphones already provide these functions in both hardware and software and can be repurposed to take advantage of economies of scale. In addition, there are open source software and libraries that that ADAPT program seeks for sensor applications.
The third deals with sensor-specific applications that use common hardware and software for each as a way of saving the cost of development.
Currently DARPA has developed a core ADAPT hardware and software package using a customized Android operating system to be used in common for ISR sensors. According to DARPA, the first reference design for the software of an Unattended Ground Sensor (UGS) using the ADAPT core is complete.
This self-powered UGS is a very small cylinder designed to remotely sense ground activities by networking wirelessly with other sensors or user interfaces, though exactly how it senses ground activities or in support of which military applications has not been revealed.
“We’re excited to have the first reference design for a small, adaptable ground sensor and look forward to testing a significant number of these new sensors in field scenarios starting this summer,” said Mark Rich, DARPA program manager. “We believe that the ADAPT building block approach – where you take the ADAPT core and easily plug it into any number of ISR sensor reference designs – will transform how the military Services and the defense industry approach ISR sensor research and development. This method has the promise of being much more cost-effective, faster to the warfighter, and easier to refresh with technology upgrades.”
DARPA is considering the development of additional reference designs that use the ADAPT core for airborne, sea and undersea sensors. The technology’s versatility was recently demonstrated when the control interface of a quadcopter was replaced with the ADAPT core, which was able to provide flight control input.