High-power hardware is part of a bigger effort to take capabilities usually stored in entire buildings and condense them into a suitcase.
The wearable supercomputer has the computing power of six to 12 standard desktop computers, but is less than six inches long and weighs one pound.
It’s a paperback! It’s a belt buckle! No, it’s a supercomputer! It’s a wearable supercomputer, actually, and it can clip onto a belt so users can take it anywhere they need to go. The product is part of a larger project designed to deliver the capabilities of a simulation center to warfighters instead of requiring them to travel to special facilities. If all goes according to plan, service members can expect the powerful new hardware as well as software and applications to transform their training when they receive the technology. And even if the plan goes awry, the open-source basis for the simulation still could benefit the military.
MNB Technologies is developing the wearable supercomputer as part of the
These capabilities all are contained in a 1-pound, 1-inch thick (including battery pack) host device—one of two major components of the supercomputer—that is 3.5 inches wide and 5.5 inches long. “That’s it. That’s the whole machine,” says Nick Granny, chairman and chief technology officer (CTO) of MNB Technologies. The device is about the size of a standard paperback book and can be clipped to a belt. In the original configuration, the computer can run on its battery for three hours. With the addition of a 0.25-inch-thicker battery, run time can be extended to six hours. However, Granny explains that most of the time the supercomputers will run on alternating current power. The host has a 1.6-gigahertz central processing unit, 1-gigabyte random access memory, wireless and wired Ethernet, universal serial bus, video graphics array, audio and high-definition multimedia interface ports.
The computer has a 5-inch display and a built-in keyboard that personnel work with their thumbs. If users need a bigger screen, they can employ a head-mounted display or flip-down visors. When using the head-mounted display, users experience definition equivalent to a 54-inch monitor at a distance of six feet. Granny says users employ a display to match their applications. According to him, the device is basically a Windows computer with “a lot of extra power.”
The accelerator module is the second major component of the wearable supercomputer and is predictably tiny—not much bigger than a pack of gum, in fact. The express card package is 1.3 inches wide, 2.1 inches long and 0.4 inches thick. The accelerator is a PCIe module embedded inside the host. It contains a field-programmable gate array, an embedded 500-megahertz Power PC 440 processor and 256 megabytes of random access memory as well as 64 megabytes of flash memory and 74,000 programmable logic cells. “That’s where the power comes from,” Granny explains. Besides extra processing and memory, the programmable logic cells become the algorithm. In this approach, the machine adapts itself to become the algorithm.
MNB Technologies has turned the express card in the computer into a dedicated image processor or matrix multiplier or whatever else customers need, requiring only a few milliseconds to completely change how it is programmed. If users’ main applications require different algorithms, the wearable supercomputer loads up the algorithms thousands of times faster than a regular computer. It continues this process for new needs. When groups of the devices work together, the power increases exponentially, not linearly. They act in concert to offer more performance than the sum of their individual capabilities.
MNB Technologies creates its wearable supercomputer using heavily modified commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware. An outside company manufactures the wearable platform, and MNB adds its accelerator, which also is a COTS product adjusted for the company’s purposes. By tying all the existing pieces together, MNB Technologies creates a cost-effective platform. “I could sell these all for $5,000 and make a profit,” Granny says. In a few years, he anticipates being able to reduce that price to $2,500 to $3,000 because components will become more affordable.
The wearable supercomputer has applications beyond the military for activities such as trucking, agriculture, land management and disaster relief. The hardware is ready, and depending on the application that must be ported to the device, the team can write an accelerated routine in a few weeks to a few months. Routines are kept in the library for future use. The company shipped one prototype to its partner company, Cole Engineering Services Incorporated, for the
Cole Engineering Services, rather than MNB Technologies, is the company mainly responsible for the development of the
To optimize it for simulation and modeling functions, the wearable supercomputer has stereo sound with peripherals hooked to it. In addition, a vest with pneumatic actuators simulates a thump when soldiers are hit with lasers in their scenarios. “It obviously doesn’t do any damage, but it teaches you a lesson,” Granny says.
MNB Technologies’ involvement with the
The Simulation Center in a Box is based on One Semi-Automated Forces technology (example shown here). Part of the project is a wearable supercomputer that is the size of an average paperback book.
The wearable supercomputer fills a need in the project because it can incorporate a capable user interface into a small package. With the devices, users can take advantage of a full-size interface display with a package they can hold in one hand. While a final configuration has yet to be determined, the current set-up of the
The concept behind the
The original RFP for the project specified that it would be used by an Army maneuver battalion with a goal of one person grabbing the box, boarding an airplane with it and setting it up ready to train battalion staff within an hour of arriving at the destination. Stevens says with the appropriate programming, the simulations could apply to any staff. The ultimate goal is to enable the simulations to replicate any actions an actual maneuver battalion can do, but he explains that even if the project is at an 80-percent level by the time of production, it will be very useful.
One of the biggest challenges for Stevens and his team is simulating enough entities and actions to replace the personnel in the white cells at simulation centers. These personnel act as role players and translate orders into the simulation system. To overcome that issue, Cole Engineering has built goal-oriented behavior into the system. Generally, simulation software is built around task-oriented behavior.
Using the goal orientation programming, the simulation takes whatever assets are available to control an objective. How the participants meet that objective is up to them. That sort of effort normally is done by humans simulating messages passed over radio networks or digital messages but now can be done by computer. Cole Engineering built one behavior that encompassed everything in itself without requiring an actor to perform the action. Work on this will continue in Phase 2 of the SBIR project. Other research work involves studying user interfaces on handheld devices and connecting real command and control systems into the simulation system so no new equipment is needed.
Officials at OneSAF are excited about the project and will reap benefits even if the project never reaches full production. Currently, according to Lt. Col. Rob Rasch,
Though Col. Rasch believes the
Cole Engineering recently finished Phase 1 and received some more money to work on additional pieces. The company is preparing for Phase 2, which it hopes to begin in April. SBIR Phase 2s generally run 12 to 18 months and result in a working prototype at the end. If that is successful, Phase 3 will mark the beginning of larger production.
In addition to the federal funding, MNB Technologies also is receiving funding for the wearable supercomputer through the state of
MNB Technologies Wearable Supercomputer: www.mnbtech.com/web/Products/wearable-supercomputer
Cole Engineering Services Incorporated: www.coleengineering.com
One Semi-Automated Forces: www.peostri.army.mil/PRODUCTS/ONESAF
21st Century Fund: www.21fund.org/overview.aspx