An iPad app that may soon play a pivotal role connecting soldiers on the street with airplanes hovering high above will be shown for the first time next month at the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas.
The app, created by Harris Corp., a tech vendor with $6 billion in annual revenue, will let U.S. soldiers in war zones remotely control cameras mounted on tethered balloons and other unmanned aerial vehicles (or UAVs, in the parlance of the military set) using their iPhones and iPads.
Like John Madden breaking down a football play, soldiers can mark up the images or video captured by the remote cameras, chat with other soldiers in the area, and take pictures and video directly on their iPhones and iPad 2s via the app.
All of this information is fed into Harris Corp.'s full-motion video asset management engine (FAME) at a command center where it is quickly analyzed. Results are sent back to the soldier in the field.
Here's a possible scenario: A soldier in a vehicle uses an iPad to point and zoom a camera on a UAV that's been circling above for weeks to a car parked around the corner of a building. FAME quickly checks the image against a database and identifies the car.
Given the glacial pace of U.S. military adoption of emerging technology, usually due to security concerns, it could take a year before the app makes its way onto a soldier's iPad, says John DeLay, chief architect of emerging business solutions at Harris Corp. "By the time you get done securing [the iPad] for the Department of Defense, it will not necessarily be a consumer device," he says.
Harris Corp. is working on an Android version of the app, too, but development is a few weeks behind the Apple iOS app. Given the iPad's head start in the market and with security features, DeLay says, "it looks like the iPhone and iPad will be secure before the Droids are."
iPhones and Android smartphones are being field-tested as part of the U.S. military's "Connecting Soldiers to Digital Applications" program. The goal is to get secure, relatively cheap consumer devices that are easy to use into soldiers' hands.
The iPod Touch has seen action in war zones in the Middle East since 2009. Soldiers use them to access maps, photos, videos and voice recordings, as well as use apps such as BulletFlight, a ballistics calculator for snipers.