NRL Technologies Demonstrated During Chicago Drill


1/13/2003 - 9-03r
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Recently, researchers from several divisions of the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) successfully demonstrated new technologies to Chicago city officials during a simulated air disaster at an old military airfield adjacent to Chicago's O'Hare Airport. NRL and the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communication staged the drill to show how NRL-developed communications tools, autonomous vehicles and computer modeling can help emergency workers in crisis situations.

NRL's Naval Center for Space Technology (NCST) and the Information Technology Division's Satellite and Wireless Networking Section worked with the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications to plan and carry out the demonstration under a grant from the National Institute of Justice. The demonstration featured the NRL-developed, state-of-the-art InfraLynx communications van technology (including satellite, video and data communications, video streaming, cell phone communications, plain old telephone system (POTS),and microwave relay), and the Software Definable Radio (SDR) - Pathfinder, as well as robotics and plume modeling technologies. SDR-Pathfinder provided crossbanding capability for radios operating at different frequencies. Using the NRL system, incompatible radio systems operated by various branches of the Chicago emergency response team worked together flawlessly during the demo.

David DeRieux, of NCST's Space Systems Development Department, notes that interoperability is a major issue for law enforcement and public safety agencies. DeRieux says that the SDR-Pathfinder is actually the civilian equivalent of the Joint Combat Information Terminal (JCIT), a digital radio developed by NRL for the U.S. Army's Airborne Command and Control System and a precursor to the Joint Tactical Radio System currently in development for all U.S. military services.

SDR-Pathfinder is an enabling technology that uses software to solve communications hardware compatibility issues by controlling modulation techniques, bandwidth operations, communications security functions and waveform requirements. Radios such as the SDR-Pathfinder allow users to reconfigure communications hardware devices "on-the-fly" for better performance and flexibility in dynamic environments, such as an unfolding crisis scenario.

An SDR radio uses software to define channel modulation waveforms. Waveforms are stored in memory and recalled when required. An operator extracts each waveform from memory and initiates a "crossband" enabling two or more different radios to communicate. Based on sponsor requirements, the SDR can have numerous configurations enabling up to 64 different radios types to be used.

With the signal in digital from, the operator can provide a plethora of capabilities including voice switching, voice conference and data communications. A digital camera can also be attached to the SDR-Pathfinder enabling video conference, still digital photography, video reception and transmission capabillities.

For demonstration purposes, the SDR-Pathfinder was integrated with the NRL Infralynx vehicle to provide the emergency workers with satellite networking capabilities that supported videoconferencing, Internet access with video streaming capability, fax capability and a private cellular network. The ground station was located at NRL.

As part of the disaster scenario, NRL's Navy Center for Artificial Intelligence in the Information Technology Division used its "Magneto," mobile robot to test dynamic autonomy software and human-robot interfaces that use a combination of touch screens, speech, and gestures for supervising the robot's behavior. For this type of scenario, the robot sets its own level of autonomy, based on its interaction with a human supervisor and based on current conditions, current task or goal, and current capabilities of the robot. These factors allow emergency workers to concentrate on evaluating and responding to the disaster situation and not on "driving" or controlling the robot. Magneto carried a high-quality video camera and new omni-directional microwave communications equipment to send images from the "scene" back to emergency personnel.

In another aspect of the drill, simulated data regarding hazardous materials fumes were sent to the ground station at NRL, where it was analyzed using a plume model developed by the Laboratory for Computational Physics and Fluid Dynamics. Results from the computational model were returned for computer display at the Command Tent. The NRL plume model is uniquely able to provide information on the dispersal of the molecules in areas with tall buildings. Other current models provide only a flat-earth view, which is less accurate for predicting how the plume will travel.

The October scenario was the second half of a two-part investigation. Part one took place at NRL in May when members from various Chicago emergency response teams visited NRL for a feasibility demonstration. Based on the success of the Chicago drill, NRL investigators will continue working with the City of Chicago and other city and state officials who have expressed interest.



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The U.S. Naval Research Laboratory is the Navy's full-spectrum corporate laboratory, conducting a broadly based multidisciplinary program of scientific research and advanced technological development. The Laboratory, with a total complement of nearly 2,800 personnel, is located in southwest Washington, D.C., with other major sites at the Stennis Space Center, Miss., and Monterey, Calif. NRL has served the Navy and the nation for over 90 years and continues to meet the complex technological challenges of today's world. For more information, visit the NRL homepage or join the conversation on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

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