Harris, a Pentagon contractor with experience in commercial broadcast video products, is currently developing an application for Apple’s iPad and other tablets that that will act as a remote display for images and video captured by UAS.
The applications from Harris rely on relatively inexpensive smart-phones and tablets, either from Apple or various Android manufacturers. Such devices might cost $300 to $800 apiece, compared to super-rugged gear previously used in military operations that can cost $10,000 or more per device because they can withstand dust, drops and vibrations. However mobile devices costing $400 can also be ruggedized [with cases and other gear] and the costs are minimal.
The aim is to create sophisticated experiences tailored towards battlefield use without the need for expensive battlefield equipment. Instead of paying up front to ruggedize devices, the apps would function on off-the-shelf consumer products, which could be easily and cheaply replaced if broken.
Another benefit to using commercially-available smart-phones and tablets is that soldiers and other users know about them from civilian life, lessening the training time dramatically.
Harris is planning to demonstrate its remote camera guidance app for iPads or iPad 2s that could be used with military-grade UAVs at the National Association of Broadcasters conference in mid-April, said John Delay, director of architectures for emerging business at Harris.
Delay said Harris believes that the military, law enforcement and various businesses will want to be able to use tablets and smart-phones to remotely control cameras. One reason that current tablet technology is viable for overhead surveillance is because image display quality has improved dramatically in the past three years. Until recently, images were too grainy or unclear to provide reliable information.
Using the iPad or iPad 2, a soldier on the ground can move a camera on a UAS or other airborne vehicle, he said. “You can steer the camera and look at what you want,” Delay said. This approach would eliminate the need for expensive ground control systems for cameras. In the Harris example, the soldier with the iPad would not actually control the UAS’ flight and direction — just the camera. Because the Harris video technology relies on the Internet Protocol, the video data can be transmitted over any wireless link.
The video capabilities of inexpensive smart-phones and tablets are pushing defence and public safety authorities to change their thinking about technology, Delay argued. “They are realizing that the media and entertainment industry are going faster than they can go, and for the first time in history, commercial developers are ahead, so they are looking to adapt those technologies.”