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Swipe, tap, boom: future soldiers could use Android tablets to control UAVs

April 18, 2012

For the better part of the last century, many technology innovations occurred in a military environment before moving on — in one form or the other — to the consumer market. This has happened with the Internet (evolved out of the DARPANET project), microwave ovens (possible via military radio research), GPS systems, jet engines (originally developed for jet fighters), communication satellites (now commercially available thanks to the space programs) and even SUVs (inspired by the Jeeps of World War II). There are a lot more examples to add to this list, but you can see where I’m going here.

It is in this context that many of you might be surprised to learn that this trend has reversed over the past few years, up to the point where the military currently aims to adapt technology originally developed for the consumer market. Given the name of the website you’re reading this article on, I’m sure you won’t find it that surprising that Android is one of the technologies that will be at the heart of numerous military-grade gadgets developed in the close future.

Granted, this is not the first time we’ve heard about Android being used for military (or other high-security) purposes, as the recently announced Boeing Android smartphone and the NSA’s Android-based spy phones seem to run among the same lines. But if Jani Lyrintzis, VP of Special Terminals at Elektrobit (a Finnish engineering firm that customizes Android for the military) is to be believed, there’s a lot more coming in the future, ranging from Android-powered biometric scanners to an Android tablet that can control unmanned drones.

What makes the Android OS appealing for military purposes is the fact that it is free, almost perfect for military use, and highly tweakable. The only thing that stock Android is missing is a highly secure middle layer between the apps and the OS, required for making absolutely sure that secret data doesn’t fall into the wrong hands.

That’s exactly what the people at Elektrobit are doing: they make the required modifications to Android, before forwarding the software to defense contractors that build the industrial design and the extra hardware (such as the biometric scanner in the example above). So now, the military don’t have to build their devices from the ground up (both the hardware and the software). Instead, they have a very powerful platform that can adapt to a huge variety of tasks. Talk about an Android army, right?

What do you guys think? How far is the army from controlling unmanned drones via a ruggedized Android tablet? Let us know what you think in the comment section below, helmets on!