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  • DARPA Seeks Smartphone App Developers for ADAPT Program

    December 05, 2011

    Commercial software models sought for ISR applications

    Current sensor systems, like those being developed for DARPA’s Adaptable Sensor System (ADAPT) program, are increasingly complex; they offer advances in capabilities far beyond their current use. One significant limiting factor in our ability to leverage all of these advances is the lack of sophisticated, adaptive applications. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), for example, have become indispensible intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms on today’s battlefield. How much more effective could they be if an app were created that allowed a swarm of small deployed UAVs to be controlled as a single unit (a hive so to speak) without having to individually control each vehicle?

    “DARPA is looking to tap the smartphone application development community with experience in application creation,” said Mark Rich, DARPA program manager. From novel approaches to networked connectivity, accelerometer use, user interfaces and others, DARPA hopes to revolutionize sensors built on smartphone-like technology. Rich believes this can be accomplished by adding commercial smartphone application developers to the innovation process to deliver deployed distributed sensor systems for warfighters.

    According to Rich, “The rapid advancement and sophisticated capabilities in today's smartphone technology provide opportunities to revolutionize the way sensor systems are developed and used. The integrated processing, storage, communications, navigation and orientation functions built into smartphone hardware and software can be leveraged to create far more powerful distributed sensor devices than we use today.”

    One potential scenario for an ADAPT network, according to Rich, could include perimeter security sensors hidden at a deployed airfield, underground, or sensors onboard small UAVs flying in a swarm networked together. These networks of sensors would share data and be programmed to provide user interface in various ways, such as via video to a tablet held by a sentry on foot.

    DARPA’s ADAPT program seeks to leverage commercial smartphone development approaches to design, build, manufacture and test a common hardware and software architecture that could run a variety of  low-cost intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance sensor applications. ADAPT core hardware and some core software, with Android-like functionality, is currently under development.

    The main difference between ADAPT sensors and commercial smartphones is that the sensors won’t include an embedded user interface, such as touch screen, phone, camera or battery. ADAPT sensors may be buried, onboard a UAV, or may be used in a small robot. ISR apps can use the internal sensors, (e.g., accelerometer, gyro or magnetometer), external sensors (e.g., cameras, receivers or chemical detectors) or internal and/or external radios to allow sensor devices to work together. Power requirements (battery), type of interface and hardware packaging are all dependent on the ISR mission.

    Rich explained, “We’re actively looking for commercial app developers to address specific sensor challenges including collecting, organizing, storing and sharing video information (e.g., YouTube for distributed video); sharing information over communications interfaces (e.g., Skype for unattended sensors); developing and implementing rich user interfaces to display and understand what happens in a sensor array (e.g., Google maps with automatic tracking); novel uses of smartphone capabilities to rapidly develop and deploy sensor networks (e.g., using the accelerometer to detect trucks driving by an unattended sensor).

    The ADAPT program leverages the success of the commercial Original Design Manufacturer (ODM) development model. Today, the process for delivering new ISR sensor applications to warfighters takes between three and eight years. By applying the ODM model, ADAPT should deliver new ISR sensor applications within a year from design, meeting emerging critical needs in the field. The end vision for ADAPT is warfighter access to a library of ever-expanding ISR apps that run on a common hardware model using a common operating system – just like smart phones and apps in the commercial market today.

    View the full solicitation here.

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