The Worlds Toughest Apps: Transformative Tools for Military

March 31, 2017 • Blog Post • By Deb Smit, FastCo. Works

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IN THIS ARTICLE

  • Its hard to imagine a more challenging environment for smartphone apps than a battlefield
  • There are now more than 60 apps that help soldiers work safer, track enemies and coordinate rescues

Todays soldiers rely on mobile software, even in combat

In 2011, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) joined forces with software-maker Eucleo on the DARPA-funded program Transformative Apps. Since then, developers have created more than 60 apps that help soldiers in Afghanistan track the enemy, work safer, and coordinate rescues, all while meeting the Department of Defenses strict security requirements. Although built for modern war, these tracking and security advancements could very well work their way into civilian life following a long line of the very best military inventions, including duct tape and GPS.

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The initial challenge for Eucleo’s engineers was inventing a networking structure in Afghanistan. None existed. It took seven months of field work with troops over a two-year period.
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“Soldiers don’t have time to be flipping through apps,” says Mark Riley, CEO and Principal Engineer of Eucleo. “ had to work seamlessly through a single GIS .”
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With smartphones on the battlefield, Transformative Apps allow soldiers to not have to rely on paper maps for situational awareness. They use a military-focused Maps app to monitor troop and adversary movement in real time.
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The military follows troop activity in Afghanistan through “honesty traces.” Heat map, a Maps plug-in, allows soldiers to see troop travel movement, or traces, based on their locations over time (“heat” refers to a critical mass of soldiers). The information is tracked in real-time and is color-coded to indicate if a location is hot or cold, reminding soldiers to vary their travel patterns to avoid ambushes and IEDs.
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A soldier on a reconnaissance mission may spend days crawling into position in an enemy location, lugging heavy laptops and cameras. Tactigram, a photo mark-up tool for high-powered cameras, remotely sends images back to headquarters with contextual details like scale, location, and direction. “When you’re crawling under bushes, you can’t be looking for your USB,” says Eucleo’s CFO Adrian Porter.
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Smart Triage helps medical personnel treat and monitor injured soldiers. Each soldier carries a smartcard with encrypted data. In the event of an incident or mass evacuation, responders scan the cards, relaying pertinent information to nearby hospitals, such as medications and medical history.
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When soldiers are riding in the back of an MRAP, they can’t see their surroundings. The Crystal Hull app gives them a 360-degree view of the world outside. Multiple cameras mounted atop the truck beam images to the soldiers through their helmets, providing extra eyes on lookout.
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Soldiers navigating through dangerous terrain can’t be constantly looking down at their smartphones to locate their colleagues. CWO, a weapon-mounted scope, shows icons—friend or foe—to reduce the chances of fratricide on the battlefield. The device also displays distance to the icons based on sensors in the scope.
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This Maps plug-in locates radio messages sent by the enemy and helps soldiers pinpoint their location. Wolfhound simplifies what had previously been a difficult operation, clearly overlaying the most relevant information on a map.
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When a soldier or civilian is in harm’s way, the Beacon Application goes into receiving mode and surreptitiously captures video and audio. This information is stored for possible rescue missions. Still in development for use by both military and civilians, Beacon will relay information on someone’s location and other pertinent data.
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The goal of the TransApp program is straight-forward and uncompromising: Create highly secure tools to confront the enemy and save soldiers’ lives. All the apps developed by NIST and Eucleo are encrypted and password protected. If a user fails to verify him or herself in an app or if the hardware is lost, the system immediately wipes all data from the app.

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