Monthly Archives: November 2009

NASA Space Robots Roll with RTI

Real-Time Innovations announced that NASA is using RTI middleware to control a fleet of experimental robots. The NASA Human-Robotic Systems Project is developing four prototype robots at four major research centers. The robots share a network data architecture that uses RTI middleware.

The Human-Robotic Systems Project includes four robots with four very different missions. NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is building a robot called K10. Because it carries an array of cameras and laser scanners, this robot can operate in an unstructured environment by itself or with human oversight. ATHLETE, a large, six-limbed robot built at the Jet Propulsion Lab, is designed to transport large payloads across a wide range of terrain, including steep slopes and rocks. Johnson Space Center has built a Lunar Electric Rover—or LER—that could transport astronauts across long distances on the moon or Mars someday. Finally, Langley Research Center is building a crane-like robot called the Lunar Surface Manipulator System (LSMS) to help with assembly and loading missions on planetary surfaces.

These systems are prototypes for vehicles that will someday operate on extraterrestrial surfaces. Today, the prototypes are being tested in harsh analogue environments. For instance, during the summer, K10, ATHLETE and the LER spent weeks at Black Point Lava Flow in Northern Arizona.

Terry Fong, director of the Intelligent Robotics Group at NASA Ames, said, “Although ATHLETE, K10, and LER have very different designs and are used for different missions, they share common needs. For example, all of these robots will sometimes be “teleoperated” with direct joystick control. This requires high-speed communications with the operator. At other times, these robots will be operated with long transmission delays over low-bandwidth communication links. In addition, each system must integrate many other applications, including sensors, graphical interfaces and navigation. The robots also run a variety of operating systems, including Linux, Mac OS, VxWorks and Windows.”

All the NASA robots are designed to share a common data communications interface. This saves significant deployment costs, reduces training requirements and leverages code and experience between the centers. Someday, when NASA launches the systems, having only one communications architecture will eliminate the need for duplicate testing, simplify operator equipment and reduce ground staffing.

Fong continued, “Getting four complex robots with very different designs to use a common data system was challenging. The Data Distribution Service for Real-Time Systems [DDS] standard supports very flexible service parameters. We found that we could adapt the middleware to the unique needs of each robotic system.”

Stan Schneider, CEO of RTI commented, “NASA Ames was our first middleware customer in the early 1990s. The advances in the NASA robotics program are striking; we are proud to be a part of it.”

Happy Thanksgiving from UIAGC

AeroVironment's Raven Small Unmanned Aircraft System Receives Military Aircraft Type-Classification Certificate from the Netherlands Military Aviation Authority

AeroVironment has announced that the Military Aviation Authority of the Netherlands (MLA-NLD) has issued a Military Type Certificate (MTC) for the Raven B NLD MUAS, the first such certificate issued in the Netherlands in the Micro-Unmanned Aerial Vehicle category. This certificate permits Dutch military personnel to operate Raven systems in designated Dutch airspace.

The AeroVironment Raven B system was selected by the Netherlands Ministry of Defence, acting through its Defence Materiel Organization (DMO), after performing an open competition in 2007. Key elements resulting in its selection were hand-launchability, reliability, ease of use, robustness, and demonstrated in-theater operational performance and logistics support. The DMO subsequently purchased Raven B systems and support services, including training of military users.

“Receiving this MTC validates the Raven system’s airworthiness and reliability, but also represents an important step toward the operation of small UAS in our national airspace,” said Dick Goedhart, head section type management unmanned aircraft, DMO. “This MTC also makes it possible for us to use Raven for non-military applications, though for those activities segregation of airspace must still be managed by procedures.”

The Raven unmanned aircraft is a 4.2-pound, backpackable, hand-launched sensor platform that provides day and night, real-time video imagery for “over the hill” and “around the corner” reconnaissance, surveillance and target acquisition in support of tactical units. U.S. armed forces use Raven systems extensively for missions such as base security, route reconnaissance, mission planning and force protection.

In addition to the Raven system, AV’s small UAS include Puma AE and Wasp, which are also hand-launched and controlled by AV’s hand-held ground control station. AV’s UAS logistics operation supports systems deployed worldwide to ensure a consistently high level of operational readiness. AV has delivered thousands of small unmanned aircraft to date. In addition to the Netherlands, international purchasers of Raven systems include Italy, Denmark, and Spain.

U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center Extends Body Armor Development Contract with Nanocomp Technologies

Nanocomp Technologies announced it has been awarded an extension to its existing development contract with the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Systems Center in Massachusetts. The new contract modifies one signed in August 2008 between the parties to develop carbon nanotube materials for the purpose of improving body armor.

Earlier in 2009, Nanocomp successfully stopped 9MM bullets in controlled ballistics testing with CNT composite panels several millimeters thick. The company will use the funding to further develop and refine its CNT products with the goal of expanding upon these encouraging initial results.

“We have worked with the Army Natick Soldier Systems Center for the past several years and have made significant progress toward the ultimate goal of delivering lighter weight, advanced body armor solutions for U.S. servicemen and women,” said Peter Antoinette, president and CEO of Nanocomp Technologies. “But there is still plenty of work left to do and today’s announcement underscores the Army’s clear commitment to continue the development of next-generation body armor.”

“When fully proven, this advance could also supply lightweight armor protection for vehicles and aircraft,” he said.

Nanocomp Technologies produces large area CNT sheets and conductive yarns for a number of additional military applications, including EMI shielding and a lighter weight replacement for copper wiring in aerospace electrical systems, which would yield significant savings in fuel costs.

Former Air Force Commander Joins SpaceX

SpaceX announced this past week that Colonel Scott Henderson has joined the company. He will serve as the director of Mission Assurance and Integration and will also handle Florida external relations, assisting with state and local governmental, customer and media relations. Henderson will primarily support former astronaut Ken Bowersox, vice president of SpaceX’s Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance office, working out of the company’s Florida office.

Henderson joins SpaceX after 25 years in the United States Air Force (USAF), an experience that began by earning a degree in Astronautical Engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy. His prestigious career in the USAF included assignments in a wide variety of high level space operations and acquisition positions. A certified acquisition professional, Henderson has also earned a masters degree in Engineering Management from the Florida Institute of Technology and was a National Defense Fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Prior to SpaceX, Henderson held the position of Commander with the 45th Launch Group at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) in Florida. His responsibilities in this position focused on Department of Defense (DoD), civil and commercial space launch-related activities. Henderson joins SpaceX just as the company is preparing for the first Falcon 9 launch from CCAFS.

“Scott Henderson brings a great deal of operational launch experience and technical expertise to our company,” said Bowersox. “As we begin the first flights of the Falcon 9/Dragon system, Henderson will serve as a critical link between the SpaceX Safety, Mission Assurance, Operations and Integration teams.”

Alion Receives $3.1M Army Battle Command Support Services Task Order

The LandWarNet program promotes a standardized set of Warfighter capabilities across the Army’s computer networks and enterprise processes. To assist this effort, Alion Science and Technology, an employee-owned technology solutions company, was awarded a $3.1 million task order to provide the Army with technical engineering support to help evolve the future LandWarNet concepts and enabling capabilities.

Alion will provide services and subject matter expertise to the Army LandWarNet and Battle Command Directorate (LWN/BC) to help the Army DCS G-3/5/7 prioritize, integrate, migrate and synchronize land war net and battle command capabilities across the entire Army enterprise. The services include analysis, technical support, project management, configuration management, quality assurance and staff level research. Alion’s work will support strategic planning, system of systems analysis and programming efforts for the directorate.

LandWarNet is the Army’s program of record that consists of globally interconnected networks that connect to the Department of Defense’s Global Information Grid. The program also integrates battle command processes.

“The quality of the information available to decision makers is absolutely critical to the success of any mission,” said Timer Keenan, Alion Senior Vice President and Manager of the Strategic Operations Group. “Alion will help the LandWarNet and Battle Command Directorate prioritize and assess architectures, make material fielding strategy improvements, optimize fiscal resources to support capability synchronization and provide program management recommendations.”

The task order, awarded off of the Battle Command Support Services contract vehicle, runs for three years. It expires on July 31, 2012.

NASA Launches Remote Real-Time Visualization Demo at SC09

Engineers at NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) in Mountain View, California are driving remote simulation visualizations at 20Gbits/s directly from the Columbia supercomputer by extending the machine’s InfiniBand fabric to the SC|09 show floor in Portland, OR using Obsidian Longbow E100 devices.

“NASA’s high-end computing users are distributed across the country,” said Alan Powers, HPC Technical Director, CSC, at the NASA Advanced Supercomputer (NAS) facility at Ames, “so it is highly advantageous to be able to share access to supercomputing resources and provide secure high speed data transfers —including remote real-time visualization—without compromising fidelity or security.”

Obsidian’s Dr. David Southwell observes “Remote visualization applications are very demanding on the network, being bandwidth intensive and sensitive to latency, loss, arrival time jitter and quality of service. NASA’s InfiniBand-based supercomputers interface naturally to Obsidian’s Longbow E100 products, which transparently extend InfiniBand over 10 GbEthernet WAN connections in a manner that preserves all of InfiniBand’s properties (such as determinism and lossless flow control) while simultaneously applying standards-based AES-192-GCM cryptography”.

In the demonstration, a pair of 10 GbEthernet circuits are used to carry 20Gbits/s of visualization traffic from supercomputers in Mountain View to a multi-paneled display wall in Portland, while the data and assets at either end of the link are protected by the Longbow E100′s authentication and encryption functions, which operate at full line rate.

InJet Adds New Jet to its Northeast Services

InJet members and charter clients can now choose the best of the best when it comes to private jet travel. Through its management company ACP Jet Charters, InJet has added the new 2009 Hawker 900XP to its fleet.

The midsized jet, which won the Best of the Best Award by Robb Report for its spacious design, fuel efficiency and high-standard performance, will service all major Northeast U.S. airports.

“The addition of the Hawker 900XP to our managed fleet underlines InJet’s commitment of aircraft variety and five-star service to our clients,” said Suran Wijayawardana, chief operating officer of InJet and vice president of flight operations for ACP Jets. “This aircraft can accommodate nine passengers comfortably and comes with state-of-the-art systems that maximize passenger safety, comfort and aircraft performance.”

The Hawker 900XP is the latest evolution of the world’s best selling midsize business jet providing superior payload capabilities, extended range, superb reliability and unsurpassed comfort. The Hawker 900XP features enhanced winglets and powerful new Honeywell TFE731-50R engines enabling increased hot/high altitude takeoff, climb and cruise performance as well as coast-to-coast range capabilities any time of the year.

Barco Selects Wind River for Military Display and Management System Used by French Armed Forces

Wind River today announced that Belgium-based Barco, an international leader in high-performance display systems for aerospace applications, has selected VxWorks 653 as the foundation for its CDMS-3000 next-generation Control Display and Management System. By standardizing the CDMS-3000 on Wind River VxWorks 653 with commercial, off-the-shelf (COTS) DO-178B certification evidence, Barco reduced time and cost in attaining EASA ETSO-C113 safety certification.

Barco’s CDMS-3000 product family is based on its flexible MOSArt modular open system architecture. It includes the civil CDMS-3739 (ARINC 739), the military-oriented CDMS-3703 (combined ARINC-429 and MIL-STD-1553) and the versatile CDMS-3702, all hosting Barco’s unique MOSArt platform. This MOSArt platform enables customers to develop and integrate their own applications on the CDMS-3000 platform.

“The CDMS-3000 product family is a next-generation offering that provides openness and flexibility to customers, while also offering COTS certification to systems integrators,” said Jean-Christophe Monfret, product management director at Barco. “As a foundation for the future, we required an industry-leading, COTS DO-178B-certified real-time operating system (RTOS). Barco chose Wind River VxWorks 653 to power the CDMS-3000, which has already been selected for a variety of civil as well as military transport and surveillance aircraft.”

“Wind River VxWorks 653 is the world’s leading ARINC 653-compliant integrated modular avionics (IMA) platform,” said Andreas Pabinger, vice president of EMEA, Wind River. “The deployment of Barco’s CDMS-3000 is just the latest example of an industry leader in civilian and military aircraft selecting the most robust ARINC 653 RTOS in the market to power its cutting-edge design. Safety certification can be a long, costly process and global avionics systems integrators now routinely rely on VxWorks 653 for its COTS certification evidence to reduce costs and time-to-flight.”

Allied Pilots Association Applauds Delay in Ruling on American Airlines’ Application for Antitrust Immunity

The APA put this statement out last week discussing the delay in the Anti-Trust for American Airlines: The Allied Pilots Association (APA), certified collective bargaining agent for the 11,500 pilots of American Airlines, voiced its support for the delay in the issuance of a final ruling by the Department of Transportation (DOT) regarding American Airlines’ application for worldwide antitrust immunity.

“The DOT no doubt had its reasons for choosing to waive its stated deadline of October 31 for issuing a final ruling in American Airlines’ application,” said APA President Captain Lloyd Hill. “We welcome the delay, which will afford airline industry regulators at home and abroad more time to scrutinize the airline’s claims. Policymakers must have a clear picture of the intended and unintended consequences of permitting ever more collusive behavior in the industry. We suspect that there is increasing concern about what could go wrong if American Airlines is permitted to proceed.”

American Airlines filed its application for worldwide antitrust immunity with other oneworld Alliance carriers nearly 15 months ago. Last month, the DOT’s European counterpart, the European Commission (EC), announced that American Airlines’ plans may violate rules governing restrictive business practices. The EC also announced that it has been investigating the oneworld Alliance and the Star Alliance for possible illegal conduct.

Since American Airlines first announced its plans, APA has been citing concerns about the negative impact on the airline’s workers, the inherently anti-competitive nature of antitrust immunity and the implications for national security. APA announced its unequivocal opposition to the deal last month based on American Airlines management’s refusal to provide basic, industry-standard job protections. At that time the union reiterated its concerns about the risks of good U.S. jobs being permanently outsourced as a result of the deal. APA also cited the EC’s stepped-up scrutiny as further evidence that regulators should refrain from authorizing what amounts to a cross-border virtual merger.

“We urge policymakers to be mindful about the damage that our nation’s airline industry could sustain as a result of American Airlines’ plans,” Hill said. “Their decision will help determine, for better or for worse, the future of this vital component of the United States’ transportation infrastructure.

“In addition, their decision could well have an impact on our nation’s economic future. With the high rate of unemployment widely acknowledged as an impediment to sustained economic recovery, policymakers must take care to safeguard existing U.S. jobs.”