The foiled airliner bombings last month reaffirm the challenge to keep a step ahead of terrorists. Also, the fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks reminds us that the U.S. suffered a "failure of imagination" in our threat analysis and that our intelligence must not be locked in silos if we want to anticipate the terrorists' next move.
When it comes to imagining new electronics for the military and homeland security, a similar information exchange is imperative. In this issue's Engineering Feature, John Edwards notes that the government is increasingly looking to university research to accelerate innovation. Military technologists also are reaching out to the commercial sector to identify innovations and bring them to the frontline.
Contributing Editor Roger Allan and I recently visited the military's Armaments Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC) at Picatinny Arsenal in New Jersey. The visit gave us a chance to understand how government works with the commercial market to create a cross-exchange of innovation.
For one of ARDEC's key programs, Mortar Fire Control Systems (MFCS), the military is making great use of commercial off the shelf technology—albeit with some serious performance enhancements. HP 5500 PDAs are at the heart of the mobile MFCS system (see the figure). Augmented by Tallahassee Technologies in Florida, the handheld units connect with both GPS and single-channel ground-air radio systems (SINGARS). The PDAs are programmed with MFCS software written by Picatinny engineers.
After extensive testing at Picatinny, the PDAs are deployed in the field in Afghanistan and Iraq. There, soldiers enter data about local conditions such as weather and terrain, allowing the PDAs to accurately aim weapons such as 120-mm Howitzers over a range of five to six miles. (For details on the MFCS programs, see Roger Allan's online exclusive at ED Online 13276).
Furthermore, ARDEC has created InSitech, a private business chartered to commercialize ARDEC intellectual property with broader applications in the homeland security, public safety, and first-responder markets. To support the initiative, InSitech formed Chart Venture Partners, a $150 million fund to invest in private companies that can help commercialize ARDEC technologies or develop new technologies needed by ARDEC.
InSitech also has a charter to renovate several-research buildings at Picatinny and develop 120 acres into a $3.5 billion commercial research park with a million square feet of new facilities. I spoke with Tim Teen, CEO of InSitech, about the company's goals. He told me that ARDEC wants "to operate more like a business" and to use the base's 64 labs and 4500 R&D workers as "a draw to bring in new companies that can work cooperatively with the base."
UNCLE SAM WANTS TECH!
Of interest to the Electronic Design community, says Teen, is InSitech's work in cataloging technology based on its commercial applicability. "Imagine the mountain of information that is here," he says, noting that the tabulation of technologies lets InSitech evaluate where gaps exist and where commercial companies might bring new technologies to bear.
"We are tasked with going out in the open market and finding technologies that may be introduced to Picatinny. We go out and pulse academic research and private companies, saying, 'Here is a need we have, if you have something that can help solve it,'" he says. "In the past three months, we have introduced 114 companies to Picatinny, companies that Picatinny didn't even know existed, and companies that didn't know how to sell to Picatinny."
I asked Teen what sorts of technologies ARDEC needs most. Generally, he says, ARDEC needs anything that allows for "lighter, smaller, faster, and cheaper," such as nano and MEMS technologies, as well as new battery technologies, which are "always an issue." Other wish-list items include "ways to see through walls with radar and inexpensive ways to purify and desalinate water."
Creating an easier exchange between government, academia, and the commercial sector not only creates great business opportunities, it also helps fight terrorism. "If you have something you think the military may have use for, contact us," Teen says to you readers. "We are looking for unconventional solutions. We want to say 'Here is the problem. How would you solve it?' We don't want the same old sources."