Along side the MAARS was another interesting robotic vehicle called GUSS, the Ground Unmanned Support Surrogate. The team shown included (from left to right) Jesse Hurdus, Torc; Alfred Wicks, Virginia Tech; and Capt. Tim Bove, Marine Corp. Warfighting Laboratory. On first appearances, GUSS looks like a Polaris jeep equipped with antennae and sensors. The units are here for the Marines who are prepared to put GUSS through its paces as part of this month's RIMPAC exercise. GUSS is primarily a support vehicle and is meant to carry gear or wounded personnel as a way to reduce the load from the ground troops. It can travel unmanned along rural unpaved roads, pre-programmed to follow a specified route, at about the pace of a foot soldier. Talking to the team, it was clear GUSS was not meant to be all things to all people. It is not an all terrain vehicle, it does not work well in heavy foliage and its not sophisticated like a Mars Rover (and it costs a lot less.) It is based on a modular design and the building blocks use off the shelf technologies which enabled rapid prototyping. The team then focuses on the integration challenges. The development cycle was less than a year and manufacturing of the units took about 6 months. All four of the development models are here for the exercises. I found it interesting how these entities, Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division, Marine Corp Warfighting Laboratory, Virginia Tech and Torc worked together to produce GUSS. Funding came through the Department of Defense (Dahlgren) to the Warfighting Lab which then developed the specification for the autonomous vehicle. Virginia Tech is leveraged for their programming and mechanical engineering expertise. Finally Torc is hired to build the units. Seems like a viable partnership between DOD, University and a commercial company. Keep in mind Torc is not a vendor providing this directly to the military. GUSS is still in prototype. If the military decides to deploy these units, they will then go out to bid for production. Any limitations in GUSS' performance will be identified in these RIMPAC exercises and the team will qualify what needs to be done next.
In addition to the "big iron" being used in RIMPAC exercises, there are examples of "little iron" robots being field tested to protect and support the ground forces. I got a chance to see a couple of them this past weekend. Shown in the photo is the Modular Advanced Armed Robotic System (MAARS) unit manufactured by Qinetiq. This system packs a M240B medium machine gun along with a spotting scope, an infrared scope and viewing cameras for a 360 degree field of view. The model I saw demonstrated did not have a gun mounted to it. The unit also has rubberized tractor treads making it suitable for rocky terrain. Field engineer Rich Leemon did tell me that it wasn't all-terrain. The MAARS robot is best suited for unpaved rural roads. MAARS is operated by remote control from a suitcase system or from a wearable controller, as modeled here by Jasmine Guevara, PACOM public affairs. The Bellows Marine Corp Training Area where the exercise took place was made up to appear like an Afghani village. You can see the flag on the building and the men in the foreground behind MAARS are role players brought in from San Francisco. Evaluators of the MAARS looked for system vulnerabilities and operational effectiveness by Marines controlling the units in a free play exercise. The MAARS units run about $350K each and are still in the evaluation stage. In this video Rich Leemon explains the general operations of the MAARS as he guides it back onto the truck. Next up is GUSS.
Friday's F-22 Arrival Ceremony was quite the event. In addition to the social media contingent, which included Marc Orbito, Ricky Li, David Lau, Gabriel Yanagihara, Lee J Hopkinson, Greg Yamane, Brian Dote, Ian Kitajima and me, there where a few hundred guests of the Air Force and joint services. Hula performance was done by Robert Cazimero's dancers which was followed with speeches by dignitaries including Gov. Linda Lingle and Sen. Daniel Inouye. Finally, Kahu Kordell Kekoa did a traditional Hawaiian blessing of the planes. These are just 2 of the F-22's that will call Hawaii home. By early next year that number will grow to 20. Each will be part of the Hawaii Air National Guard and operated under a joint agreement with the active duty U.S. Air Force. The social media team did a great job capturing the event and you can view photos by Jasmine Deborah, Gabriel Yanagihara, Brian Dote, Lee Hopkinson and Marc Orbito. Ian Kitajima shot several live videos and posted then to his Dual Use site. Greg Yamane posted this video of the F-22 taxiing to the ceremony. Ricki Li took it a notch up with this video production. Here is a set of photos and a rather sedate video I shot of the F-22. Of course the best was this video courtesy of KHON2News
It's testament to Pat Sullivan for not only lasting 25 years in Hawaii but to actually grow Oceanit and thrive in this arguably isolated market. I remember visiting him some 20 years ago in a small one-man office in downtown Honolulu. Now they command an entire 6th floor space in the Oceanit Center on Fort St. Mall and are expanding on the ground floor to accommodate their lab. The projects they take on seem to have no boundaries. On one side of the floor is Hoana Medical where they develop and market the Lifegurney. Think of Star Trek's Sick Bay beds that read your vital signs as you lie there. On another floor in the Oceanit Lab, work is going on to develop nanoparticles consisting of nanatubes that are filled with toxins. The design of these nanoparticles make them seek out specific cancer cells upon which they bind and inject their toxic payload, killing the cancer cells. In the photo above, programmers have devised a way to read your heart rate by placing your finger on the camera lens of your iPhone. The approach is novel enough to be patentable. In the growing market for personal activity and health monitors this would be a must have. During the short program, Pat Sullivan talked about being disruptive and finding new ways to use technology to make a difference. But it's not only about being smart with technology but it is also about being smart with the connections that will get you there. Obviously Hawaii is a big Department of Defense location and the right Federal connections are important in making the equation work out. Each of the Hawaii delegation to Washington DC were on hand to talk about tech in Hawaii and Oceanit in particular. US Rep. Mazie Hirono, Sen. Daniel Akaka and Sen. Daniel Inouye each spoke. Sen Inouye brought attention to earmarks which he has been publicly criticized for. If you listen to his talk, about 30 minutes into the video, he is no where near giving up on this tool for Federal funding of special projects. All in all a delightful, thought provoking evening about what it takes to survive and thrive in Hawaii's technology industry.