The Mil & Aero Blog
Saturday, August 28, 2010
  Is your embedded system supplier "board agnostic?"

Posted by John McHale
I know what you’re thinking -- please not another marketing buzz term. I hope "board agnosticism" or "board agnostic" doesn't fall into that category, because I fear I may have accidentally coined it this week at the AUVSI show in Denver while talking to embedded systems designers.

It came up during conversation with Michael Humphrey of APLabs, now a part of Kontron about how they are still going to use Kontron's competitors' single-board computers in the rugged electronic systems and chassis APLabs designed, and not become a Kontron-component only shop.

So I went around the corner and asked the folks at Curtiss-Wright Controls Electronic Systems if they were board agnostic too? Curtis Reichenfeld, their chief technical officer, replied "yes, we are board agnostic, absolutely, we give the customer what they want. I love that term by the way!"

I thought oh hell, I just gave the embedded community another marketing mumbo jumbo phrase, like ecosystem, or thought leader. I'm going to see board agnostic in a flurry of press releases the rest of the year, and know I only have myself to blame.

Could be worse, a company could say that their board product is "best of breed"... Ugh. It drives me nuts when I see an electronic chip or software tool labeled as best of breed like it's an entry in the Westminster Kennel Show.

I got one other linguistic gripe before I end this -- whiteboarding. A colleague recently told me we need to back to the office and whiteboard our goals.

Whiteboard is NOT a verb.
Friday, August 27, 2010
  I wanna go to UAV school

Posted by John McHale
Journalism school was fun, but how cool would it be to enroll in a college and declare your major as unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) operations? Well you can! L-3 Link Simulation & Training and the University of North Dakota (UND) in Grand Forks, N.D., are jointly creating an Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASs) Training Center located on UND's campus and Grand Forks Air Force Base, beginning operations in March 2011.

It will be a non-military educational that provides initial qualification and continuation training for operators of the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. All you have to be is a U.S. citizen, according to L-3 Link officials.

It makes sense, as most students coming out of school today find operating electronics, computers, video games, the Wii entertainment system, etc., to be second nature.

It reminds me of -- now I'm dating myself -- of a movie called "The Last Starfighter" from the early 1980s about an alien race that rigs a video game on Earth so that the kid who gets the record qualifies to fly their starships, and they kidnap him to help them win a galactic war.

I don't think it would crazy for the UND or the Air Force to put a video game out there involving UAV operation, and rewarding the highest scorer with a scholarship to the UAS Training Center.

Not as far-fetched as that campy 80s movie...
  Robot convoy

Posted by John McHale
Remember the Sam Peckinpah movie Convoy starring Kris Kristofferson from the 1970s about outlaw truck drivers? Imagine if all the trucks were robots.

Lockheed Martin engineers are working on such an unmanned vehicle convoy concept. Ok, not exactly robots, but a system that enables military convoys to be unmanned, thereby cutting down on casualties from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The Lockheed Martin concept is called Convoy Active Safety Technology, or CAST, and it uses kits that turn military transport vehicles into autonomous vehicles. According to the Lockheed data sheet it uses Lockheed's AutoMate sensor and actuation kit that enables lateral and longitudinal control of different tactical wheeled vehicles relative to a lead vehicle within a five-vehicle convoy.

Lockheed Martin officials claim that CAST reduces fatigue, eliminates rear-end collisions, and enhances operator situational awareness. The system also has night-vision capability.
Thursday, August 26, 2010
  AUVSI traffic in Denver steady, but it lacks DC excitement

Posted by John McHale
The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI show) in Denver this week had steady traffic, and exhibitors were pleased with the leads they had, but the majority I spoke to said there was more of a buzz in Washington at last year's event.

Organizers of the event said that traffic was up over last year with more than 6,200 as of Thursday afternoon. Last year they said the event in Washington attracted close to 5,500 attendees. It should be noted that the numbers are for total attendance -- including exhibitors and there were 110 more exhibits this year.

Attendees definitely see unmanned systems as a major target for Department of Defense funding over the next few years, but right now there is uncertainty as to which systems will get funding. They put that down to the uncertainty of what the Obama administration will cut.

There were more embedded systems suppliers exhibiting at this show than in years past such as Bittware and Extreme Engineering. Seems like a no-brainer to me as unmanned systems requirements focus on small size, low weight and low power -- right up the alley of the embedded military systems designers. If they're not here, they should be.
  Thermal management name change good move for Parker, Spraycool

Posted by John McHale
This week at AUVSI in Denver Dan Kinney of Parker Hannifin Aerospace Thermal Management Systems in Cleveland pulled me into his booth to show all their new thermal management products and briefly tell me on how they are branding themselves.

Kinney came with Parker's acquisition of Spraycool in Liberty Lake, Wash., a company which had its ups and downs over the years, but always had interesting technology, that is now backed by Parker’s capital .

Hence the name change -- taking Parker's Advanced Cooling Systems and Spraycool and combining them into a Thermal Management Systems Group.

The term "thermal management" is pretty much the buzz phrase from what I've seen in the industry for cooling electronics in military systems where heat and power must be kept to a minimum -- a tougher challenge every year as processors continue to generate excessive amounts of heat.

We've used the term to describe our coverage of this topic for articles, webcasts, and conference sessions.

Thermal management is not hot right now, but it is cool.

Yeah, I know, but I couldn't resist...
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
  Manned or unmanned aircraft ... is there a choice?

Posted by John McHale
During diner with a buddy of mine last week -- Peter L. -- I mentioned that I would be at the AUVSI show this week in Denver. Peter is a big military technology buff and likes my job even more than I do, but I was surprised to hear him say we should stop making new fighter jets and focus solely on the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) -- not an opinion I often hear from those outside the military industry, as fighter jets and fighter pilots are a bit more glamorous than spy drones.

His main argument was fiscal -- UAVs cost less to make and can go places human-piloted planes cannot. I'd add to his list that UAV flight training costs less than manned flight training. Many folks are making the same argument and taking it a step further asking if it is even necessary to have trained fighter pilots flying UAVs.

I've always been in favor of manned missions over robotic missions when it comes to space exploration, but when it comes to the battlefield -- the more unmanned systems the better because quite simply they save lives from the unmanned ground systems that recon urban hot zones to the armed Predator UAV that take out enemy forces in Afghanistan.

However I don't think we should do away with the manned fighter aircraft, they are as essential as the UAVs to success on the battlefield. One of the big themes I'm hearing this week is the push toward manned and unmanned teaming on the battlefield.

It is already happening in some circles such as the VUIT-2 system on Apache helicopters, which enables Apache pilots to access UAV-generated intelligence. UAVs can enter areas, which might be too risky for the fighter pilot to make precision strikes or to provide the necessary reconnaissance before manned aircraft can enter the area.

David, Vos, of Rockwell Collins in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, said during a briefing this week that manned/unmanned teaming should not just be thought of as a military scenario, that it can happen in civilian space too.

Vos also says that at some point planes will be pilot optional -- in other words if the pilot doesn't feel like flying he doesn't have to, the autonomous controls will handle everything -- including emergencies. "Before I'm in the ground I want to be able to get in the cockpit flying to see my mother-in-law, and decide that I don't feel like piloting, so I will read the paper instead and enjoy a cup of coffee."

My friend Peter is right on one point -- UAVs are the future of military airpower and will be essential to every mission -- however they will not replace manned aircraft, but rather make them even more capable, effective, and more deadly to enemy forces.
  UAV ground control systems follow-up

Posted by John McHale
Last month I wrote a feature for our print magazine on ground control stations (GCS) for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and the U.S. Defense Department's plans for a common GCS that can work with any UAV platform. This week at the AUVSI show in Denver, I had a little chat with George Romanski, president of Verocel, about the efforts he and others are making to build the software architecture for the future GCS.

Romanski said it will use a secure multiple independent levels of security (MILS) software architecture with Linux running on top so to speak. With MILS the secure data will be protected within the MILS architecture.

The architecture will also be certified to the necessary Federal Aviation Administration standards such as DO-178B. The system should be deployed between 2013 and 2015.

I will be doing a more in-depth look at the architecture in the coming months.
  Most serious DOD information warfare attack may have happened two years ago in the Middle East

Posted by John Keller

We're just getting word of what may be the worst-ever breach of U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) computers, in an information warfare attack which reportedly happened two years ago in the Middle East, according to a story breaking this afternoon in the Washington Post.

The Pentagon says a foreign spy agency was able to insert a flash drive into a DOD laptop computer, which spread a malicious code undetected on classified and unclassified Pentagon computer systems in what may be the worst information security problem ever reported, according to the Post report.

The story, entitled Pentagon computers attacked with flash drive, says the incident previously was kept secret, and was revealed in a magazine article by Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn and released by the Pentagon today.

The malicious code, the Post reports, established the capability to steal military secrets. We'll keep you informed as this story develops.
Wednesday, August 11, 2010
  Ghosts of embedded computing past: it's about time Curtiss-Wright pulled up stakes and found new digs

Posted by John Keller

AUGUST 11, 2010 Executives at Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing, at long last, are stepping out from the shadows of their past and are relocating to a new headquarters in the Washington, D.C. suburbs -- to a place with no connection to the company's past as it rose to become one of the dominant suppliers of rugged embedded computing components and systems for aerospace and defense.

Curtiss-Wright has finished moving a couple of miles east of its longtime headquarters in Leesburg, Va., to Ashburn, Va. I wonder why this move didn't happen sooner. Not that there's anything wrong with Leesburg and those just-vacated offices, but that facility has a long and storied history. There are ghosts in that place that I'm sure Curtiss-Wright people had mixed feelings about leaving behind.

The new 31,000-square-foot Curtiss-Wright facility, company officials say, has 50 percent more space than the old Leesburg site, and has room for as many as 100 employees. Room for growth; that's great. Still, the best thing about the move, I think, is the company is finally leaving the old Ixthos Inc. facility behind.

Some of us who have been around this business long enough (and you know who you are) remember Ixthos as a scrappy, innovative embedded digital signal processing company, which started in Leesburg in 1991 with larger-than-life Jeff Milrod in charge. This was back in the days of dedicated digital signal processors from companies like Texas Instruments, Intel Corp., and Analog Devices -- back before the first PowerPC processors stepped in to take over a lot of that DSP work.

I remember visiting Milrod at the Leesburg offices back in the early '90s. Really tough DSP programming scared a lot of smart people back then, but not Milrod. He was fearless in his use of some of the first Analog Devices SHARC DSPs in tacking difficult radar, electronic warfare, and signals intelligence applications. This was back in the days when the SHARC was lovingly described as "not human-friendly."

Well, one thing led to another and Ixthos was acquired in 1997 by Dy 4 Systems of Kanata (now Ottawa), Ontario. Milrod, meanwhile, took his DSP work with him and moved up to Concord, N.H., to a company that's still around, BittWare Inc. Milrod's company still specializes in tough DSP problems, but does it these days with field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) instead of the old DSPs.

For a while, under Dy 4's leadership, the Leesburg site was primarily a satellite of the main Dy 4 action in Canada. I think Leesburg is where Dy 4 stashed its mad scientists, but that's another story. At any rate, the Leesburg facility was pretty quiet for a while, that is, until early 2004 when Dy 4 was acquired by Curtiss-Wright -- a company that burst on the embedded computing scene in 2001 when it acquired what was then Vista Controls in Santa Clarita, Calif.

The year 2004, it's no understatement, was a transformative year for the U.S. embedded computing industry -- particularly where military and aerospace applications were concerned. The Dy 4 acquisition elevated Curtiss-Wright from a serious player to a dominant player in embedded computing. Coincidentally, 2004 also thrust Leesburg back into the center of things, as Curtiss-Wright made the place its headquarters of Curtiss-Wright Controls Embedded Computing, where it has remained until the move to Ashburn.

So the move is a good one, particularly for the corporate identity of Curtiss-Wright Embedded. No longer is the company's Virginia headquarters the old Ixthos, and no longer is it the old Dy 4. Now Curtiss-Wright Embedded starts out fresh, with a headquarters that's all Curtiss-Wright.
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