Rugged tools put video in warfighters' hands

Demand increases for battlefield-ready mobile devices that can display images

Live video is one of the most sought after intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets on the battlefield. The ability to deliver real-time ISR information, such as streaming video from an unmanned aerial system, into the hands of those on the front lines gives warfighters immediate, actionable information. It also allows them to collaborate with others based on a common picture.

A number of companies are collaborating to put real-time ISR information in warfighters’ hands.

Electronics maker Panasonic and mobile technologies provider Reality Mobile have worked together to pair Reality Mobile’s RealityVision mobile video collaboration software with Panasonic’s Toughbook U1 handheld computer for this purpose.

Similarly, wireless networking provider Fortress Technologies and mobile collaboration company Librestream have joined forces to put Fortress' secure wireless mesh networking technology into Librestream’s Onsight Mobile Video Collaboration system, a device that provides for streaming high-definition video and two-way videoconferencing.

In addition to video transmission, Onsight facilitates voice collaboration and telestration, which is a graphic markup of video images. However, Onsight is a dedicated video device, while Panasonic's U1 is a general-purpose computer that warfighters can use for other applications.

As for Panasonic and Reality Mobile, Defense Department organizations are testing their paired hardware and software to determine if the technology can not only stream video from ISR assets, such as remote cameras and unmanned aerial systems, but also display live feeds from workstations in tactical operations centers. With the U1 handheld device's built-in camera, users can send back real-time imagery, giving commanders and other units instant visual information about incidents.

After setting up a thin software client on mobile devices or PCs and a back-end video server, RealityVision users can create a one-to-many video and image broadcasting capability via any IP network. If a device that runs the thin client has a camera, “you can push a button, and then you're streaming video to the network, said Brian Geoghegan, executive vice president and chief product officer at Reality Mobile. “And anyone who has access to the server can independently pull that feed themselves, or a console operator can push it to you.”

The U1 is well suited to handle that task, said Fed deGastyne, Panasonic Solutions Company’s federal business development manager. Based on Intel’s Atom processor, the rugged handheld computer has a built-in camera and 5.6-inch display that warfighters in the field can read in bright sunlight. The U1 also has a 32G solid-state drive and twin hot-swappable batteries. “You can run it 24 hours a day as long as you can keep charging batteries,” deGastyne said.

The U1 also can network via Wi-Fi or cellular broadband, and it can be tethered to other communications devices, such as a manpack radio for satellite or terrestrial radio networking, deGastyne added. “You could be out in the field videoing an incident of some kind in progress and pushing that video out to thousands of other devices, including other laptops, cell phones and PDAs, using Reality Mobile’s software. So it's very powerful from that perspective.”

RealityVision can deliver varying video quality based on available bandwidth. “We run over regular cell networks and, depending on the hardware, over satellite links,” Geoghegan said. He said the company is participating in a DOD exercise in which it is pushing data through a military mesh network. “What we do is distribute images in real time within that authenticated network.”

The mobile devices aren’t the only potential source of video. Warfighters also can use RealityVision to send video — or even a video capture of a computer display — from any networked source to mobile devices.

"IP-based cameras, for example, typically send images back to a command center," Geoghegan said. "You may want to send that feed directly to the warfighter, so that they can see it in real-time themselves." Geoghegan said sharing video this way helps speed the exchange of information and makes collaboration among warfighters more efficient.

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