A soldier straps on an exoskeleton that extends along the sides of his legs and supports his 200-pound pack; immediately his pack feels weightless. A rugged handheld computer can withstand rain, extreme heat and cold, and sudden drops, allowing military personnel to communicate with one another on the battleground. A new radar technology enables soldiers to peer through walls to determine if anyone is hiding on the other side.
These are a few of the latest innovations for the military coming out of top international companies housed in Florida. Many are clustered in the continually developing field of C4ISR-Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. These projects and companies provide tens of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in federal grants to the state, and endless opportunities for technological innovation.
Soldiers in the field who must work outside their vehicles have been requesting computers that are small, lightweight, and rugged, says Gary Eppley, project manager for Warrior Systems at General Dynamics C4 Systems, which has operations at Orlando and Sunrise, FL. General Dynamics has decades of experience producing computers sturdy enough to withstand rain, heat, cold, and all the general kinds of knocks that occur during combat. Their most recent challenge required making such a machine small enough for soldiers to slip into a pocket, wear on their chest, or strap to a wrist.
In August 2010, General Dynamics released the GD300, a light, wearable, rugged computer. It weighs just eight ounces and can withstand high humidity, vibrations, and shocks, and it runs apps useful to military personnel. When the GD300 is connected to a tactical radio, soldiers enjoy secure networked connectivity with each other and their leaders. Beyond the military, this product has potential for other users who need rugged devices in extreme environments, such as searchand- rescue teams, field medics, and FBI border patrol forces.
The engineers at Melbourne, FL-based Harris, an international communications company, are also focused on transmitting information: not just visual information but even sensory data. In a defense project the company is developing, Harris is using haptic (tactile feedback) technology to create "exquisite feedback," says R. Kent Buchanan, vice president of engineering at Harris's Government Communications Systems Division. "You can feel the tension, such as if you're pulling on a wire to disarm [a bomb]," he says. This would be useful, he explains, if someone needed to do precision work such as bomb disposal or medical procedures at a great distance or in a dangerous setting.
Design Interactive in Oviedo, FL, has designed a system that provides a touchbased language for silent communication, with a 56-element grammar that can be received and understood by feel. The company's president, Kay Stanney, reports that the system was recently tested by soldiers on simulated patrols in Thailand. The soldiers were able to respond effectively to commands received by the touchbased system, with an average comprehension of between 90 and 100 percent. Stanney says this technology promises to be useful in urban war settings like Kabul, where soldiers must sometimes use silent communications.
Soldiers and law enforcement officials alike would love to be able to increase their surveillance abilities to determine whether someone is lurking behind a door or wall. And now, thanks to a technology developed by Orlando-based L-3 Communications CyTerra, they will be able to do so. This prototype, slightly larger than a brick, works by means of radar technology and electromagnetic waves. The waves pick up subtle changes in movement, even movements as slight as those made by a person breathing. From 65 feet away-across the street-a user holding this batterypowered device can aim it at a building and determine whether anyone is inside. The device cannot yet do more than represent a person as a blinking dot: it doesn't yet indicate height (or even differentiate between people and animals), or show whether the target is armed. Even so, it provides information that could save soldiers from hostile combatants, or prevent civilian casualties and fratricide (the killing of fellow combatants).
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