To explore options for reducing IT costs while enabling a mobile workforce, the U.S. Office of Naval Research (ONR) has conducted field testing of a mobile command and control solution comprised of off- the-shelf components, including Microsoft® tools and technologies and phones powered by Windows Mobile. The exercise included Inca X’s Live Media GPS and enabled ONR to demonstrate innovative ways to leverage IT for collecting and analyzing operational data.
The United States Navy must simultaneously deploy and synchronize resources and personnel all over the world under highly dynamic and potentially hazardous conditions. In support of the Navy's directives, the United States Office of Naval Research (ONR) develops, funds, and manages science and technology solutions to help make U.S. forces stronger, faster, and more effective.
“We are facing increasing pressure to lower the cost of providing and maintaining IT services for our customers,” says Mr. Brian Reily, the ONR’s Chief Information Officer. “At the same time, Federal IT organizations are being challenged by senior leadership to facilitate transformational change to enterprise business operations. Fortunately, several technology trends are converging to support both objectives by embracing mobile computing and cloud-based technologies [i.e., running applications and storing their data in distributed, third-party server farms]."
To help identify and evaluate emerging, maturing, and off-the-shelf technologies that offer the potential of transformative change in ONR's business operations, ONR recently formed the Disruptive Business Technologies group (DBT). The ONR's advanced mobile computing (AMC) proof-of-concept exercise showcased DBT’s model of leveraging off-the-shelf and open source technologies to support rapid technology deployment.
The Advanced Mobile Computing Proof-of-Concept Exercise
ONR Director of Disruptive Business Technologies Dano DeBroux initiated the AMC proof-of-concept exercise to demonstrate how mobile platforms present a significant opportunity to reduce the Navy's IT footprint and support infrastructure while enabling business and operational capabilities for its distributed, highly mobile workforce. The findings from an analysis of alternatives strongly favored technologies from Microsoft® and UK-based Inca X due to ease of integration with existing IT infrastructure and applications, Microsoft’s mobile and cloud technology roadmaps, and an architecture that supports custom and third-party application development.
Key Solution Requirements and Components
Because the AMC exercise needed to enable both mobile- and server-based business and operational functions for a distributed workforce, one of the critical success factors was that the solution be device- and carrier-independent. In addition, to support exercise planning, execution, and reconstruction, Naval Development & Acquisition (D&A), a key stakeholder in the exercise, required full lifecycle data capture, management, and visualization capabilities. Specifically, the following were required:
• Mobile information sharing
• Exercise and event reconstruction
Geo-tracking would provide near real-time tracking of ground units via a Web-based dashboard and enable geo-tagging of operationally-relevant data captured from the mobile devices. Full lifecycle data capture, management, and visualization was required in order to support exercise planning, execution, and reconstruction.
The proof-of-concept solution included 15 HTC Touch Pro mobile phones with cameras, which were unlocked for the exercise by Verizon (Verizon’s lockdown of application access to the Q7500 GPS in its standard image prohibits automatic geo-tagging of pictures and videos). The software component featured the Windows Mobile 6.1 operating system (standard Windows Mobile 6.1 applications leveraged as part of the demonstration included Mobile Explorer, IM/SMS, Mobile Outlook, and Mobile Office) and Inca X Live Media GPS, which provided real-time resource tracking and remote video Webcasting capabilities. Inca X Live Media GPS also provided the ability to archive tracking and broadcast data collected during the demonstration.
Additional proof-of-concept components included the following:
• Inca X GeocastServer: Supported broadcasting and geo-tagging in real time
• Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, Microsoft SilverlightTM , and Microsoft Live Mesh: Easy integration of these components resulted in a Web-based interface that provided command and control staff with a secure environment for accessing and analyzing data
• Microsoft Virtual Earth (now known as Bing Maps for Enterprise): Allowed DBT to visualize geographic and location-based information
• Photosynth from Microsoft Live Labs: Geo-tagged still images were processed through Photosynth to support event/exercise reconstruction
• Celio REDFLY Mobile Companion: Provided an alternative for environments not conducive to a mobile device form factor
• Microsoft Mobile Communicator: Supported presence/status awareness, instant messaging, and text-based group chat
• Loudtalks: Provides push-to-talk capabilities via a managed online service, which were to be leveraged in the event of poor radio coverage
The entire Windows Mobile service for the exercise was provisioned via the cloud, and because Microsoft platform capabilities are mobile carrier and device independent, it was easy to provision and connect mobile applications worldwide to Microsoft-based enterprise services via the cloud computing model. The carrier-grade server components are also highly scalable and provide a practical solution anywhere mobile assets (people or machinery) are used and status and proximity data needs to be tracked or monitored.
Functionality and Capabilities
The Inca X application, installed remotely on Windows Mobile phones, runs in the background, collecting and broadcasting real-time GPS data from jeeps, tanks, boats, and other land or sea based vehicles to which the devices are attached. The data is then available to users in the command and control center via the Web-based Silverlight enterprise client embedded in SharePoint. (Video from the demonstration is available at http://www.ix-m.com/lmgps-video/onr-video-1.html.)
Able to work wherever there is a signal, on land or at sea, the devices broadcast data that can be consumed by any other connected devices on the network, anywhere in the world. Using the Silverlight dashboard and SMS functionality built into Windows Mobile, C2 staff can send programming instructions to the devices that require no human interaction. After the instructions are received by the onboard devices, C2 staff can monitor both worldwide geographical context as well as specific, on-location detail being broadcast from the various entities’ points of view.
All of the resulting data is captured by the Inca X GeocastServer and can be used later in reviews, event reconstructions, and for other exercises. For these types of applications, the users can easily select start times, specific entities, playback speed, and other key criteria.
Solution Testing and Evaluation
After the initial solution architecture was chosen, the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies (PIPS) approached DBT to develop a tailored, rapid prototype for a large operational testing demonstration. Conducted at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina the exercise was, according to DeBroux, hugely successful in proving the viability of the AMC model.
Inca X founder Phil Bishop was particularly instrumental to the success of the rapid prototype development. “Bishop’s expertise with Microsoft’s full product family was instrumental in integrating a custom version of the Inca X Live Media GPS product into the mobile devices and command center dashboard,” DeBroux notes.
Inca X Live Media GPS integrated seamlessly with Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Silverlight, Windows Mobile 6.1, and Microsoft Virtual Earth. “Integration of Inca X Live Media GPS data with Virtual Earth and Silverlight worked flawlessly,” DeBroux notes. The only gaps in tracking data were due to the mobile device battery life.
In the area of information sharing, DeBroux found that:
• The persistent chat capability provided by Inca X’s Live Media GPS integrated well with the Web-based SharePoint/Silverlight dashboard and client application
• Integrating Microsoft Exchange public folders and email-enabled SharePoint lists into the C2 dashboard worked well
• Using SMS/MMS from the Windows Mobile devices offset cell coverage limitations
• Geo-tagged pictures and videos captured on the mobile devices were readily available for analysis and showed promising results
Event and Exercise Reconstruction
Bishop developed a feature for advanced playback and data export of tracking data for exercise reconstruction. According to DeBroux, Inca X’s Live Media GPS provided excellent data for reconstruction purposes. In addition, DeBroux notes that Microsoft Virtual Earth provided “an excellent framework for real-time tracking and exercise reconstruction.”
Regarding the use of Microsoft Photosynth, DeBroux explains, “We tested taking the video from the geo-cast provided by Inca X Live Media, decomposing it down into individual still images, all of which were geo-tagged, and feeding it into Photosynth – just to see if it would work.” The results showed promise. “The implication,” DeBroux notes, “is that, assuming the devices were on a fixed location, we would have a pretty good situational awareness map with a pretty realistic, on-the-ground view of the area of operation.”
A small subset of the capabilities has been transitioned for a pilot, and DBT will also be conducting a follow-on exercise. The scope of these activities encompasses green computing, reducing the organization’s IT footprint, and enabling a mobile workforce. In addition, they will focus on integration of the core Microsoft Office productivity suite with its online offerings.
Innovative capabilities to be included in the follow-on exercises include further enabling geo-tracking (by enabling access to the situational awareness dashboard via mobile devices) and utilizing geo-tagged SMS/MMS messages. Information sharing capabilities to be further explored include streamlining the system interface, identifying options for limited cell coverage areas, and using mobile forms for data collection. The team also plans to evaluate the next versions of Microsoft Office OneNote® Live, and will look at using voice control for application switching as well as voice-to-text transcription.
To test the viability of commercially available tools and technologies to deal with event and exercise reconstruction, the follow-on exercises will include further work on integrating Photosynth artifacts into the operational dashboard, using Web-based tools for Microsoft Virtual Earth content management, and integrating Inca X Live Media GPS data directly into SharePoint.
Microsoft, Partner Technologies Help U.S. Navy Demonstrate Powerful Strategic Performance Improvements
||This was a validation of the agility of Microsoft products. It just made sense to go with Microsoft.”
Director, Disruptive Business Technologies
“This was a validation of the agility of Microsoft products,” DeBroux says. The exercise demonstrated to ONR that the capabilities and functionalities provided by Microsoft, Inca X, and other commercially available IT tools and technologies are potentially transformative for the way enterprise organizations communicate, collaborate, and optimize their increasingly mobile assets.
One of the key premises of the experiment – that affordable, existing tools and technologies easily available at retail can be combined in unexpected ways to deliver potentially transformative functionality and capabilities – rests on the existence of a vast ecosystem of partners, value added resellers, and device manufacturers, as well as the availability of familiar development tools that make it relatively easy to build and deploy mobile business solutions to help meet an organiza¬tion’s unique needs.
The Microsoft platform, tools, technologies, and partners DeBroux’s group selected for its AMC exercise enabled the ONR to better leverage worldwide IT assets to collect and analyze operational data. “It just made sense to go with Microsoft,” DeBroux says. For example, he explains, “Using SharePoint and having a public folder in Exchange pop up as a Web part on the dashboard to show a discussion thread back and forth – as well as the inherent capabilities that come with SharePoint – really worked incredibly well.”
The outcome of the demonstration exemplifies what can be accomplished when an organization’s stakeholders build on existing IT offerings, leverage existing infrastructure, and tap into powerful new capabilities that are the result of the IT industry’s ongoing research and development efforts. The successful reliance on existing IT offerings, and the significantly low cost of the DBT’s proof-of-concept exercise, demonstrates the ability for both public and private sector organizations to extend their reach by utilizing familiar, widely available tools that can provide a highly scalable solution with a low total cost of ownership.
To share their results, ONR is holding meetings about the AMC exercises with representatives of various organizations – including financial development institutions, other government agencies, and worldwide humanitarian aid and disaster recovery groups – all of whom are deeply interested in learning to use affordable, commercially available products rather than more expensive, custom-tailored solutions to meet some of their organizations’ emerging needs.
For more information about products and services available from Inca X, visit their Web site at: http://www.IncaX.com. For further reading about Inca X, see the Window Mobile Solutions case study, Boat Racing Championship Generates New Interest with Mobile GPS Tracking Technology.