The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative (SBI) is a comprehensive plan to secure U.S. borders and reduce illegal immigration, including an array of technical aids and elements on both the northern Canadian border and the southern border with Mexico. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency will lead and execute both the SBI and related SBInet efforts, and a $2 billion SBInet contract is expected to be awarded in September 2006. Boeing IDS President & CEO Jim Albaugh has described SBInet as “an initiative of national significance addressing a global problem,” and both Boeing IDS and Raytheon are currently prepping teams for the bid.
The Boeing-led SBInet team includes the following major contractors: DRS Surveillance and Reconnaissance Group in Palm Bay, FL; DRS Technologies in Parsippany, NJ; Kollsman,Inc. in Merrimack, NH, an Elbit Systems of America company; L-3 Communications in Washington, D.C.; L-3 Communication Systems – West in Salt Lake City, UT; Perot Systems in Plano, TX; and Unisys Global Public Sector in Reston, VA.
Raytheon leads a team that includes: Apogen Technologies, Inc. in McLean, VA; BAE Systems, Inc. in Rockville, MD; Bechtel National, Inc. in Frederick, MD; Deloitte Consulting LLP in New York, NY; and IBM in Armonk, NJ. Interestingly, Raytheon is citing is leadership of Brazil’s SIVAM (System for Vigilance of the Amazon) program and its 30 subcontractors as a key qualification that’s comparable in scope and complexity to the USA’s SBInet.
The Israeli military is experimenting with a futuristic Frisbee-size unmanned aerial vehicle called the Mosquito. Somewhat like the Class I MAV, et. al., the Mosquito will one day be expected to fly into buildings through doors and windows, taking pictures with its miniature video camera, then fly out again and show soldiers what it saw inside.
Its critical robotic brains and autopilot come from MicroPilot Inc. in Winnipeg, Canada, which is carving out an important position in this market. MicroPilot specializes in the small and mini UAV segment, building autopilots that incorporate things like a GPS receiver, altimeter and other sensors, then connect to airframe controls and to the vehicle’s sensor “payload” to issue instructions. Many mission parameters like map/GPS coordinates, altitude settings, et. al. are set in advance using MicroPilot’s PC-based Horizon software, and it’s also possible for soldiers to assume manual control.
So, what factors have helped this company succeed?
Akamai Physics Inc. in Las Cruces, NM received a $10.3 million cost-plus fixed-fee contract modification for Bright Onyx. This is a compact, active multi-spectral chemical sensor operating in the 5-micrometer region; it enables the remote chemical detection of chemicals associated with weapons of mass destruction that may be transported on ships inbound to United States ports. The Bright Onyx sensor must operate at UAV airspeeds and ranges with detection sensitivities of 10 ppm
m and meet UAV power, weight, and size requirements. Solicitations began March 2006, negotiations were complete June 2006, and work will be complete June 2008. The Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH issued the contract (FS8650-04-C-1714/P00004).
UAVs are becoming increasingly popular for WMD-related detection missions, in additional to their ‘traditional’ roles in battlefield reconnaissance and light precision attack. Very recently for example, a $8.2 million contract was aimed at modifying Boeing’s ScanEagle UAV to detect biological agents.
Government Technology Services Inc. in Chantilly, VA received a delivery order amount of $24 million as part of a $126.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for Microsoft select variable software license for the family of existing Microsoft products. Work will be performed in Falls Church, VA and is expected to be complete by May 31, 2008. This was a sole source contract initiated on April 17, 2002 by the Defense Contracting Command in Arlington, VA (DASW01-02-F-1062).
A standard microprocessor has its circuits hard-wired into it, and serves a specific purpose such as image compression or video streaming. In contrast, field programmable gate array (FPGA) computer chips stepped onto the stage in the mid-1980s, and can be reprogrammed to perform multiple functions. These capabilities come with a significant price tag for up-front development, with successive manufactured copies costing a few cents apiece.
The Missile Defense Agency is currently supporting an effort to update this technology for use by the military and NASA in space’s hostile and radiation-heavy environment. In 1996, for instance, NASA had an FPGA chip with an 8,000 logic gate capacity. Current requirements and standards involve 1-2 million logic gates…
Florida State University (FSU) researchers are working on complex instruction sets to let ground robots sense and react to their surroundings, which would allow them to operate more independently as opposed to being “waldos” that require remote control at all times. FSU Professor of Mechanical Engineering Emmanuel G. Collins is the director of the Center for Intelligent Systems, Control, and Robotics (CISCOR), which just has this research funded for eight years and a total of $4 million. DID’s June 2005 article “Battlefield Robots: to Iraq, and Beyond” explains some of the trends at work, and the USA’s $120+ billion Future Combat Systems program explicitly imagines armed land robots with some independent decision-making capability. DARPA’s Grand Challenge was one step along that road, Oshkosh’s steps toward unmanned trucks flowed from it, and this research may produce yet another step.