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Smartphone technology inspires design for unattended ground sensor

30 May 2013

DARPA is using COTS technology, such as that used in everyday smartphones, to develop specialised unmanned sensors for military use.

DARPA’s Adaptable Sensor System (ADAPT) programme is seeking to transform how unattended sensors are developed for the military by using an original design manufacturer (ODM) process similar to that of the commercial smartphone industry.

The goal is to develop low-cost, rapidly updatable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors in less than a year - a marked improvement on the current three-to-eight year development process.

The programme has developed the core ADAPT hardware and software package using a customised Android Operating System to provide capabilities common to all ISR sensors. The program recently completed its first reference design and developed application-specific software for an unattended ground sensor (UGS) that uses the ADAPT core. This new UGS could provide users with a cost-effective ground sensing capability.

The UGS design is a very small cylinder. It features applications to remotely sense ground activity for a number of potential military applications. The sensor is self-powered and can wirelessly network with other sensors or user interfaces, such as a video monitor at an operations centre.

“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,” says Mark Rich, DARPA programme 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 may develop additional reference designs that integrate the ADAPT core and sensor-specific apps into airborne, sea and subsea sensor designs. Researchers recently removed the control interface of a small quad-copter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and replaced it with the ADAPT core.

This successfully provided flight control input to the UAV and marked an initial step in applying the ADAPT core to other sensor reference designs (see video).


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