Have It Your Way: Allowing Soldiers to Customize Handheld Solutions

Many of our Soldiers are digital natives who have grown up expecting the capability to customize their world. It's understandable that they have the same expectations for communication devices and battlefield systems, and the Army has taken some great initial steps in adopting these types of solutions. (Image: US Army)

Many Soldiers are digital natives who have grown up expecting the capability to customize their world. It's understandable that they have the same expectations for communication devices and battlefield systems, and the Army has taken some great initial steps in adopting these types of solutions. (Image: US Army)

Michael Anthony is the Chief of the Advanced Applications Branch and Collaborative Battlespace Reasoning and Awareness (COBRA) Army Technology Objective (ATO) Manager for the US Army Research Development and Engineering Command, CERDEC, Command and Control Directorate (C2D). Ron Szymanski is a Lead Computer Scientist for CERDEC C2D and the Technical Lead for the COBRA ATO. Both are located at Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD.

As we mentioned earlier today, CERDEC C2D is exploring Edge-Enabled Systems as part of our efforts to leverage commercial hardware, software, and graphical user interface technologies for handheld, military-specific use. We defined Edge-Enabled Systems in the last post; now it’s time for some real-world examples.

It’s easier to identify more examples in the commercial world than the military world. Edge Systems are things like Facebook, iGoogle, Google Docs, the iPhone (including the App Store), and Android devices (including the Google Marketplace). They are effectively any system that enables the user to operate while away from a desk, and they offer some type of composability.

Facebook enables users to pick and choose applications that can be installed to their environment on the fly. iGoogle offers users the capability to customize their portal based on the information they deem most relevant and the actions they perform on a daily basis. The iPhone App Store has 200,000+ applications, any of which can be installed by any user at any time. Google Docs gives one access to all their presentations, spread sheets, and other documents no matter where you are or on what device you’re viewing them.

Any Warfighter that has recently graduated officer’s school or recently enlisted is a digital native. They have grown up expecting the capability to customize their world. Burger King allows its patrons to “have it your way,” and today’s Soldier expects the same from his/her communication devices and battlefield systems. They expect to be able to customize their experience, compose new solutions, and have access to their information at any place on the battlefield.

The Army has taken some great initial steps in adopting these types of solutions. Product Manager Strategic Battle Command (PdM SBC) is exploring a thin client-based collaboration solution called BC Web. Project Manager Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (PM FBCB2) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have joined-up to build and support TIGR (Tactical Ground Reporting) System on both desktop/laptop systems and (most recently) hand-held environments. The CIO/G6 of the Army recently announced their Apps for the Army initiative winners and stood up their app marketplace.

The Army is making great strides in implementing Edge Enabled Systems, but we are currently in the crawl stage of crawl-walk-run. We’ll discuss the potential return-on-taxpayer-investment tomorrow.

Again, we’re interested in your thoughts on this model, so please share comments or leave questions. For a more in-depth explanation regarding our approach, listen to the DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable discussion we had last week at the C4ISR Symposium in Baltimore.  If you simply want more information about CERDEC C2D, contact our Public Affairs office, (732) 427-1594 – and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter, too!

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