Army on Track With Tank Sensors

By Susan Kuchinskas

August 10, 2005

Test of IBM set-up could keep trucks rolling and personnel safer.

IBM said the United States Army's Tank Automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) successfully tested a sensor/software combination designed to keep military vehicles rolling.

According to Wednesday's announcement, TACOM saw benefits in extending the information from wireless sensors already embedded in military vehicles to more personnel.

The technical test, conducted in partnership with IBM's Sensor and Actuator Solutions Group, was done on three vehicles in the Detroit Arsenal. It took about a year and a half, and cost TACOM around $3.4 million; vendors of the various software products the Army uses also contributed to the cost.

"The group has been looking at how to integrate sensor data into information networks, so you can use that data to make intelligent decisions about a business or activity," said Ann Breidenbach, director of IBM Sensor and Actuator Solutions. "We incorporate data from sensors, allowing it to be tied into an existing IT system and provide logical views about what this data means."

Using IBM's WebSphere MQ Series as a messaging interface to TACOM's Maintainer's Remote Logistics Network, PCs hardwired into the vehicles transmitted data from the sensors to WebSphere Microbroker and DB2e database software. The data, which ranges from mechanical problems that develop in vehicles during battle to vehicles that may be running low on gas or ammunition, is then sent to equipment manufacturers, logistics managers and central headquarters locations via satellite.

When a vehicle is dispatched, the operator can turn on a health-monitoring maintenance system that provides data about its readiness and triggers a GPS system showing the location of the vehicle. The vehicle operator, contact repair team and brigade support battalion all can view the vehicle's health information on computers connected to WebSphere Portal Server.

The system would keep Army personnel safer, because soldiers wouldn't have to leave the vehicle to investigate the problem. Instead, the system delivers a diagnosis, allowing the mechanic to decide whether the vehicle can continue or should turn back for repairs.

Eventually, the system could eliminate the need for troops to make routine in-person inspections of military ground vehicles, sometimes in the field of combat.

"We decided to try this technical test using sensors to … take the burden away from the soldier to enter information by hand into their individual management information systems for parts and work orders," said Catherine Jackson, lead architect of the project for United States Army Tank Automotive and Armaments Command.

Jackson said that a return on investment would come by reducing paperwork and manual data entry, eliminating a round trip between a disabled vehicle and the base to diagnose the problem, as well as the money and time lost due to errors.

The project is part of an IBM initiative launched in September 2004. Big Blue said it would invest a quarter of a billion dollars in a year and a half to grow its sensor business.

IBM's Business Consulting Services Group also is working with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a policy for the use of RFID tags by 43,000 defense suppliers. The DoD was one of the major buyers that mandated that their suppliers use RFID to track shipments.

In other RFID news, manufacturers of RFID chips, tags, labels or readers banded to together to form an intellectual property licensing consortium. The consortium, which includes Alien Technology, Avery Dennison , Symbol Technologies and Tyco Fire & Security , hopes to provide consistent and convenient access to RFID patents based on EPCglobal standards for manufacturers and end-users.

The group is calling for other companies or individuals holding essential RFID patents to join.

ABI Research analyst Erik Michielsen said the new group will provide a clear migration path for manufacturers to move to the next-generation RFID standard, EPC Gen2, which should extinguish users' concerns about RFID intellectual property.

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