US Army developing mobile apps for soldiers in the field

US Army on the iPhone

According to Computerworld, US soldiers may soon be carrying some familiar devices into battle: iPhones and iPads. Two military contractors, Harris and Intelligent Software Solutions (ISS), are building applications for the iPhone, iPad and the Android platform that will assist soldiers deployed to the battlefield.

Harris' forthcoming app for the iPad and other tablet devices enables a soldier on the ground to remotely control the video cameras on an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in order to gather intelligence on enemy movements. Soldiers would use multi-touch gestures to transmit commands from the iPad to the aircraft without putting themselves in harm's way. Video from the UAV, along with time and location data, would be sent to the app and transmitted to military decision-makers located anywhere in the world.

ISS is close to field testing apps for iPhone and Android phones that keep soldiers -- especially those first arriving in a war zone -- informed about nearby fighting, bombings and arrests. The app keeps troops on the ground well prepared by superimposing battlefield data, sent wirelessly from a command center, onto a map of each soldier's surroundings.

According to both developers, the new apps promise to drive down equipment and training costs for the military. For example, many soldiers are already veteran iOS or Android users and will likely understand the new software with less training than would be required for custom-built gear. Additionally, the new software runs on comparatively inexpensive, off-the-shelf devices priced at US$300 to $800 each.

"They [the military] are using $10,000 wireless receivers today, but with mobile devices costing $400, those can be ruggedized [with cases and other gear] and the costs are minimal," said John Delay, director of architectures for emerging business at Harris, which will demonstrate its new app at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference in Las Vegas next month.

Unfortunately, even an encased iPad or iPhone may more frequently succumb to the rigors of battle. But Rob Rogers, vice president of national systems for ISS, is optimistic that the Army will still be able to save money.

"We've seen first-hand what happens to a laptop used in the desert [in combat], so there's going to be some problem with ... these [mobile consumer] devices that are fairly inexpensive and almost disposable," said Rogers. "But if they break or get dust in them, you don't have to shell out a lot to replace them."

He adds, "It's a trade-off. I would anticipate a lot of broken Androids and iPhones."

The loss of a few good iDevices is a small price to pay for solutions that safely provide soldiers with the intelligence they need to make life-saving decisions.

[via Engadget]