Today’s “smart” phones pack a lot of applications. And now 3G and 4G networks have the power to disseminate actionable live video to and from war zones.
by Robin Berger
“Military personnel can be turned into sensors [by] giving them devices that allow them function as a video or audio collector of intelligence,” said Harris Corp. CEO Howard Lance in his April 14 keynote address at NAB 2010.
It’s just a matter of tailoring his company’s “Citizen Journalist” concept to military needs. CJ, which debuted at IBC 2009, demonstrates how commercial broadcasters could benefit from applications that facilitate viewers’ video contributions via cell phone.”What we’re sending out to the war fighters today is information that’s like raw video: There’s very little context,” said Fred Poole, Harris’ Director of Advanced ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) Programs.
Harris’ proposed military-tailored app includes key enhancements.”We can draw circles, put in a cursor, put chat or audio in, weather and other data,” said Poole. ”We’re going to enable that down to the actual dismounted soldier who’s extended beyond an operation.”He compared the current and future experience to watching raw footage from a football game versus televised coverage. Harris should know: it spent 10 years upgrading the NFL’s Instant Replay system, which enables referees to pinpoint key events to make the right call. Lance noted that many of the technologies used here have been recombined into the FAME (Full-Motion Video Asset Management Engine) architecture that serves as the backbone to Citizen Journalist.
According to Poole, Harris first deployed its FAME at Army Combat Training Centers in 2007. The platform enables collaboration among multiple users, employing video, audio, sensor and other data. FAME is now “deployed, or scheduled to be deployed,” in a number of areas in the military, said Poole. The next milestone could provide geospatial locations, identify participants and sources, and provide other helpful references and services.
”We are evaluating this software amongst others,” said Susan Meisner, media relations official for the Defense Department’s National Geospatial- Intelligence Agency (NGA).
Although Harris is investigating the use of various 3G and 4G capable devices, it now uses Apple’s iPhone and iPad for demonstrations. Ericsson’s QuicLink tactical cellular system was the customer’s communication path of choice for the military app (the commercial version uses AT&T).
Ericsson QuicLINK communication network, in a Humvee So, Harris swapped out the SIM cards on its network to orient to the Ericsson product, said Citizen Journalist Product Manager Mark Darlow. QuicLink’s scalable 3G network consists of portable units (a 115- pound core unit plus a 109-pound radio unit) that operate in the WCDMA 2100 frequency band. Ericsson claims it is “characterized by a high degree of resilience against electronic warfare assaults” as well as easily installed, operated and maintained. As a bonus, it can transport encrypted traffic.
And it has multiple ways to uplink. “The challenge comes in after you’ve collected the video and transmitted it back to local operations centers,” said Ericsson Federal CTO David Brager. “What backhaul solutions do you use to reach the rest of the enterprise? In some countries those networks simply don’t exist.”In July 2009, Harris and Ericsson participated in the Empire Challenge, an event considered to be the Defense Department’s premier Joint/Coalition Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance interoperability exercise.
There they worked together to help integrate and test the end-to-end network architecture for the receipt, processing and dissemination of full motion video. This year the demonstrations focus on applications that this portable network can support. At press time, both companies indicated that they were scheduled to demonstrate iPhone tech to the NGA in May.
At NAB 2010, Harris streamed live video from an iPhone in Las Vegas to a server at its United Kingdom headquarters. The server, equipped with Harris’ Invenio digital asset management system, previewed and repurposed the video, then streamed it back to an iPad in Las Vegas.
”The whole idea was that it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, or where anybody else is in the world,” said Darlow. Harris also introduced a function specifically designed for the military, designated by a gray “Citizen Journalist” icon button, which enables key video to pop into a soldier’s handheld device like an SMS text. “That’s for a soldier previewing a dedicated download sent from the command center,” said Darlow.
”It’s called My Projects for now.” The app’s goal—real-time situational awareness—was highlighted in Lance’s NAB speech. He defined this as “having access to all the information that you need for a full understanding of the environment so you can take the best and proper action.”
But making this goal a reality goes beyond the added environmental and cyber-security considerations indicated by Darlow.
According to Lance, the big hitch is the lack of standards and formats supported by Washington.
In short, the architecture and infrastructure need an overhaul.
“The Department of Defense is primarily set up to move data,” said Poole. “We’re providing an architectural capability that allows us to reside on top of the network.”
Admittedly, to date it’s a stopgap approach. ”Basically you’ve got a highway full of potholes—you can’t really expect a sports car to travel on it, because it will rip it apart; eventually, you’ll have to fix the road,” said Poole. “Right now the architecture [consists of] pieces and parts that allow you to acquire, manage, store, visualize and redistribute data using broadcast techniques and technology—solutions that are crafted to work within this strange environment.”