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Military apps putting iPhone in the battlefield

iPhone apps being developed for military mapping, surveillance

By Brad Reed, Network World
April 14, 2011 10:13 AM ET

Network World - While it's unlikely that future wars will be won or lost by iPhone applications, it's entirely possible that Apple smartphones deployed in the battlefield could soon be saving lives.

That's because application developers such as Intelligent Software Solutions (ISS) and Harris Corp. are working to create military applications that soldiers can use to gather intelligence and map out dangerous areas in hostile territory. John DeLay, the director of strategy and architecture for Harris' small and medium business division, says that the addition of improved video capabilities on smartphones has made the iPhone and comparable devices legitimate surveillance tools that can capture high-quality images on the battlefield.

"As these hand-held devices have become more capable as collectors for video, they have become more attractive and useful in Department of Defense applications," he says. "We have a number of applications we're developing in the DoD space that would run on either Android, iOS or the BlackBerry platform."

ANALYSIS: Most Android, iPhone apps violate open source rules

One such application is a military variation of Harris' Newsfish, which bills itself as a tool for "citizen journalists" who want to create videos and upload them onto blogs and news sites. DeLay says the military version of the app would allow soldiers to act as reporters and record videos with their smartphones that can be securely uploaded onto the military's enterprise architecture.

"The enterprise architecture has been designed to deal with all types of motion imagery, whether it comes from iPhones, Android devices, or Predator drones of Global Hawks," he says.

Another application Harris is developing is designed more for the iPad and other tablets that will let users remotely control fixed cameras and capture/edit footage in real time. DeLay says that the iPad is a good form factor for this particular app because it is more durable than a smartphone and because its larger screen will allow for "Madden-style telestration" where users can draw pictures or make notes on live video feeds, similar to how football commentators draw on television screens during games.

Military mapping

The military application being designed by Intelligent Software Solutions, meanwhile, doesn't rely on video-shooting capabilities and instead is more of a mapping application that military personnel can use to report, collect and analyze data while in the theater of war. So for instance, soldiers using the application and GPS technology could mark down certain dangerous hot spots that have seen frequent insurgent attacks or are frequently targeted with improvised explosive devices. This data is then uploaded into a central database where it can be used to analyze where military personnel can roam freely and where they should proceed with extreme caution.

Rob Rogers, vice president of national systems at ISS, emphasizes that most military smartphone applications are still quite a ways from being deployed in the battlefield. Currently, he says that the military is mostly experimenting with the possibility of utilizing smartphones in theater and that most of the smartphones brought into battle are personal devices owned by soldiers.

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