Smartphones for the Battlefield?

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Soon used to control a swarm of small deployed UAVs? Photo: US Army/flickr

What do smoke detectors, invisible orthodontic braces and infrared ear thermometers have in common? They are all NASA spin-offs; which means that they are consumer goods that in one way or another benefited from technologies developed through NASA funding, research, licensing, facilities or assistance.

There was a time when new technologies would trickle into the consumer market after they’d been developed and used by the military or in space research and exploration. But this trend is now rapidly reversing, with defense departments starting to look into ways of adapting consumer goods into their programs. A case in point is the recent call for applications by the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency of the US Department of Defense. DARPA is seeking developers versed in the art of developing applications for mobile devices – or more precisely, smartphones. The agency hopes to leverage commercial smartphone development approaches to create common hardware and software that can be quickly configured to perform a variety of applications.

The app developers would work for the Adaptable Sensor System (ADAPT) program, which concentrates on the development of a common framework for sensors and communication between devices used by the military. They will most likely work on applications for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which have become indispensable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms. The Kurzweil Institute says that the central idea behind the program is to “create an app that allows a swarm of small deployed UAVs to be controlled as a single unit (a hive so to speak) without having to individually control each vehicle.” Another focus area of development is going to be “the collection, organization, storing, and sharing of video” DARPA told Information Week.

And this, it seems, is just the beginning. As a slashdot user points out in his snarky comment:

DARPA also wants app developers to help out with easy-to-use app interfaces, novel uses of smartphone-like sensors (accelerometers, cameras, gyros) — and ultimately, it wants to make a War Market where a soldier can simply log in with his DOD-issued smartphone or tablet and download Angry UAVs, Nuke Ninja, and other battlefield apps.”

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