Designers must respond to first responders
The U.S. Coast Guard is an ideal venue to deploy and test new defense electronics concepts. When rescue helicopters and swimmers are shown in action saving lives, it can fuel the imagination of the designer to somehow join this effort by developing technologies that reduce the risk to the rescuers and improve the survival rates of the victims. For example, the rescue baskets lowered to victims from helicopters seem to spin and shift during descent or recovery. Might it be possible to develop a system of unobtrusive, remotely controlled ailerons on the basket that operate from the downwash of the rotors to provide rotational and lateral stability for the basket? The chemical flares used for illumination are effective, but won't battery and white-LED technology soon allow for safer and longer-lasting alternatives?
Another capability obviously critical to Coast Guard operations is radio communications, which is often the means by which a distress signal is relayed and help is summoned. Radio technology has evolved in many ways since Jan. 23, 1909, when the radio operator of the SS Republic dispatched radio messages that led to the first radio rescue at sea 50 miles off the coast of Massachusetts. The progress that has been made is reflected in the features of this issue of Defense Electronics, which illustrate three different aspects of evolving radio technology that can be applied to the missions of a variety of first responders.
Electronics technology is a basic factor in the capabilities of any radio system, and the trend of increasing levels of integration in CMOS technology has been extended to GaAs process technology, which will simplify the design of RF systems through the use of components that contain RF and signal-processing functions. In “Integrated Multifunction X-band MMIC Merges Microwave and Digital Control Functions,” by Hausila Singh, Michael Ashman and Monte Drinkwine, a highly integrated GaAs device is discussed. This device can serve as the front-end signal control solution for a phased-array radar, and marks another milestone as the entire industry advances its SoC capabilities.
Another capability closely related to radio communications is finding the direction or approximate location of a radio signal. Radar has limitations, especially in rescue situations, where the only link with a victim might be a two-way radio. In “Understanding and Testing Coherent Multichannel and Diversity Systems,” by John Barfuss and John Hansen of Agilent Technologies, developing and testing the architecture for MIMO and direction-finding capabilities in radio communications systems are discussed. The military applications for this capability are obvious; the benefits to someone stranded at sea even more so.
In the final article, “Evolution and Standardization of the Software Communications Architecture,” from Dominick Paniscotti and Jerry Bickle of PrismTech, the commercial development of software-defined radio (SDR) is explored. Using descriptive languages with various levels of abstraction, it is possible to standardize the development of SDR systems. This system will not only ensure interoperability between SDR platforms, but will also allow specialized descriptions of various specialized platforms, such as those for space environments or robotics.
To be effective, electronic systems for defense and rescue must incorporate knowledge gained from field operations. One of the most important realities for a designer to be aware of is that war fighters and first responders often modify their own equipment to enhance mission readiness. With the advent of SDR, designers have a unique opportunity to empower the users of the equipment with this capability at an unprecedented level.
Given that capability, combined with the other technologies discussed in this issue, the day may be near when every Coast Guard unit is equipped with a single radio capable of receiving an S.O.S. message from a maritime radio or a 9-1-1 call from a 4G mobile phone.
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