Call it technology transfer in reverse. The phenomenal growth in the number of smart phones, along with a host of mobile applications and social media’s skyrocketing success, have become too much for the Pentagon to ignore in its quest to deliver the best information to the warfighter as rapidly as possible.
The U.S. Army’s mission to develop its Common Operating Environment—an information flow a warfighter can use from training through deployment—may one day include iPhones and Droids on a social media-like network. The ultimate goal is for every soldier to carry a smart phone and stay connected to the network.
So far, participation ranges from aerospace giants to academia to individual entrepreneurs. For instance, Raytheon has developed the One Force Tracker, software for the iPhone that tracks friendly and enemy forces and pinpoints their positions on real-time maps on a secure network. MIT researchers have demonstrated they can effectively control small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with an iPhone app.
Meanwhile, a 31-year-old Army captain from Fort Wayne, Ind., reportedly invested $26,000 to develop Tactical Nav, an iPhone app that lets soldiers map, plot and photograph way points on the battlefield, then convey coordinates to supporting units. It also can be used to direct artillery fire or call in helicopter support—and it will be available through Apple’s App Store.
Additionally, around 200 soldiers at Fort Bliss, Texas, have been experimenting with an iPhone-like device. The Army also is testing Google Android software with a prototype called the Joint Battle Command-Platform. A recent WIRED report indicates the Army could lean toward Android devices because of the cost savings associated with the system’s open architecture.
Fast Tracking App Development
Last year, the Army sponsored its “Apps for the Army” challenge, soliciting personnel to submit software applications for mobile phones in specific categories, including morale, welfare and recreation; Army mission; information access; location awareness; and training. The goal of the challenge was to test a rapid-acquisition process for software applications, similar to what is done when developing applications for the iPhone and Android. According to Lt. Gen. Jeffrey A. Sorenson, Army chief information officer, a total of 53 apps were submitted.
“Of those 53, we got 25 through the certification process,” says Sorenson, adding that the contest foreshadows a future for getting applications into the Army more quickly. “I think at some point in time we are going to extend this to the commercial sector.”
It’s clear the Pentagon has declared the potential of smart phones and other hand-held devices to be self-evident, creating a friendly environment for standardized app development. Sorenson’s remarks also indicate a potential floodgate opportunity for commercial and academic app developers.
The Army’s appetite for geospatial data—satellite imagery, full-motion UAV video and 3-D terrain models—is ever expanding. The ability to quickly integrate multiple data, transform them into useful information and deliver it securely to the warfigher is an essential part of the Army’s modern mission. It’s a good time for opportunistic geospatial companies that can adapt and optimize their solutions for smart phones.
— Jeff Specht, publisher, Earth Imaging Journal