Research on Mobile Computing in Tactical Environments with Handheld Devices

Ed Morris, a researcher at the SEI

Recently, Ed Morris and his colleagues at the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) have investigated the feasibility of service-oriented computing on handheld mobile devices in constrained network environments.

“We know that service-oriented computing, in the SOA paradigm, provides a standardized interface for the exchange of information. So there is infrastructure in place to simplify platform-to-platform interoperability,” Morris says. “But can SOA work on a smartphone in a tactical network environment, where network bandwidth and availability are more limited? It’s not that we care necessarily about SOA, but the military for one needs some strategy that simplifies the connections for interoperability between sensors and mobile, handheld devices in those environments.”

Through experiments at the Naval Postgraduate School, Morris–with SEI research colleagues William Anderson, Dan Plakosh, Joseph Seibel, and Soumya Simanta–found that a subset of SOA (using SOAP) is viable in tactical environments and that smartphones provide multiple-use computing platforms.  In their experiments, Morris and the others took feed from an unmanned aerial vehicle (e.g., map view at right), transmitted it using SOAP, and displayed it on a smartphone.

View from UAV sensor

“Handheld devices are one of the waves of the future,” Morris says. “But the DoD has trouble adopting the latest technology when it becomes available commercially. That’s one reason that the Army is looking at new strategies to deliver software. The old development means are too slow and inefficient. One solution is a contest called Apps for the Army. It encouraged Army personnel to implement innovative software ideas and submt them to the contest for judging and potential deployment. Around 20 apps have been considered to be worthy of deployment so far, and plans are in place to encourage more apps. As a result, there is an Army apps marketplace, which is a bit like those for Apple or Android.

“The other services have an interest in a marketplace strategy, too, I understand. Commercial organizations are trying to help too. Raytheon has a new handheld device based on Android,” according to Morris.

Research into handheld devices in tactical environments has application beyond the military. Consider a couple of homeland security scenarios. “Cities and ports may have sensors for radiation detection,” Morris says. “First responders to a radiation leak scene could carry smartphones to access data from those sensors. Or in the aftermath of an earthquake, hurricane, flood, or some other natural disaster, the many agencies responding have to be able to share information accessed from many different types of sensors.”

Morris’s next challenge is a linking of his group’s findings with other SEI research into an adaptive quality of service (AQoS) approach. Using AQoS, software applications operating in mobile, ad hoc, wireless networks can continue to operate at sufficient levels in spite of competition for bandwidth.

Morris also plans to research end-user programming with handheld devices in tactical environments and identity management in situations where communication is frequently disrupted and identities must cross domains.

For more information on this experiment, visit


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