Guiding Laser Missiles From Your Pocket PC?

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reported by NewScientist.com In the Afghanistan and Kosovo conflicts, military mistakes led to air strikes against the wrong buildings, against civilians or on friendly forces. One cause of such tragedies is misinformation from the battlefield – perhaps because troops transmit the wrong target coordinates, or are simply misheard. To address the problem, the Pentagon has commissioned a new battlefield targeting system based on a raft of sensing and communications technologies, controlled by a hand-held Pocket PC. It will go into service with US Special Forces in 2003. The super-palmtop will combine laser rangefinding, GPS satellite positioning, a satellite phone and text messaging. Called JEDI, or Joint Expeditionary Digital Information, the system will be controlled by Microsoft’s Windows-CE operating system. The Pentagon wants JEDI to help simplify the way soldiers send target coordinates and other vital information from the battlefield to control centres. “It has to be designed so it’s easy to use,” says Peter Batcheller of Booz Allen Hamilton, the technology development company based in McLean, Virginia, that created the system. “Troops can’t call up an IT desk if it goes wrong.” txt msg JEDI is used in conjunction with laser rangefinding binoculars. A soldier spotting a target vehicle will use the binoculars to get a reading on its position, speed and direction of travel. This data is then collected by the Pocket PC, while the soldier identifies the type of vehicle by pointing to simple icons on the screen. The palmtop codes the information into a short text message, which it sends via the Iridium satellite mobile phone system to a forward headquarters or to a waiting attack aircraft. This is both more accurate and quicker than the current way of working, which relies on soldiers calling in the coordinates by radio and describing targets verbally. Slow response speeds can cause problems. For example, fast-moving mobile rocket launchers can be missed by strike aircraft because they have gone by the time the attacker gets to the scene. “It can take as much as 30 seconds to a minute to get a message for a target with the current voice system,” says Batcheller. 12 second reboot In recent US Army tests, JEDI target messages were sent and received in as little as 3 seconds. Its simple, icon-based software also reduces the risk of inaccurate information being called in, cutting the chances of attacks on the wrong target. If the Windows-based machine crashes, says Batcheller, it can be rebooted within 12 seconds. But can a Pocket P – -more at home in a Starbucks coffee bar than on the battlefield – handle combat conditions? JEDI is a lot more robust, he says. To test quite how much the gadget can take, the Army had a game of football using a JEDI as the ball – and it worked just fine afterwards.

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