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DARPA develops Android-based sensor for future use in UAVs and more

In an effort to build military sensor systems faster than the current method allows, DARPA has developed a new sensor framework with the use of a new design and a modified version of the Android OS.
May 30, 2013
DARPA, the U.S. Department of Defense’s famous research agency, put out a call for developers a few years back for help on a new mobile-oriented project that it started called the ADAPT program. ADAPT — which stands for Adaptable Sensor System — was said to be a way of seeking “novel techniques and processes to rapidly develop low-cost ISR sensor systems” through the use of manufacturing methods used by ODMs. In short, the aim is to build military sensor systems faster than the current method allows based on proven techniques for present-day mobile devices.

What DARPA didn’t mention when it sent out its original call to developers was that ADAPT was actually going to be based on Android. Today, it has finally revealed just that, saying in a press release that the core ADAPT hardware and software package has been developed with a modified version of the Android OS.

Rather than just write a bunch of technical details that may get very little attention in the mainstream media, DARPA has recorded a video of an actual ADAPT sensor — with a minimal amount of hardware and the customized version of Android and all — in action. It was fitted inside a small UAV which is shown on video to be capable of getting off the ground by using the newly-developed sensor framework.

The video demonstrates how a standard quadcopter can benefit from the use of a basic ADAPT core-based sensor called the UAG (unattended ground sensor). It is small, lightweight, and is expected to radically speed up the development of inexpensive intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors that are easy to update.

For now, the device used in the video demonstration remains just one of many possible reference designs. Some airborne, sea, and undersea sensor designs may also be developed and released in the future, but even now, this new use of existing technology looks pretty promising already. Check out the full DARPA news release below for additional info.


Smartphone Technology Inspires Design for Smart Unattended Ground Sensor

Commercial smartphone processes to aid development of air, sea and undersea unmanned military sensors as well

DARPA’s Adaptable Sensor System (ADAPT) program aims to transform how unattended sensors are developed for the military by using an original design manufacturer (ODM) process similar to that of the commercial smartphone industry. The goal is to develop low-cost, rapidly updatable intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors in less than a year, a marked improvement to the current three-to-eight year development process.

The program has developed the core ADAPT hardware and software package using a customized Android Operating System (OS) to provide capabilities common to all ISR sensors. The program recently completed its first reference design and developed application-specific software for an unattended ground sensor (UGS) that uses the ADAPT core. This new UGS could provide users with a cost-effective ground sensing capability.

The UGS design is a very small cylinder. It features applications to remotely sense ground activity for a number of potential military applications. The sensor is self-powered and can wirelessly network with other sensors or user interfaces, such as a video monitor at an operations center.

“We’re excited to have the first reference design for a small, adaptable ground sensor and look forward to testing a significant number of these new sensors in field scenarios starting this summer,” said Mark Rich, DARPA program manager. “We believe that the ADAPT building block approach—where you take the ADAPT core and easily plug it into any number of ISR sensor reference designs—will transform how the military Services and the defense industry approach ISR sensor research and development. This method has the promise of being much more cost-effective, faster to the warfighter, and easier to refresh with technology upgrades.”

DARPA may develop additional reference designs that integrate the ADAPT core and sensor-specific apps into airborne, sea and undersea sensor designs. Researchers recently removed the control interface of a small quad-copter unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) and replaced it with the ADAPT core. This successfully provided flight control input to the UAV and marked an initial step in applying the ADAPT core to other sensor reference designs.