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Robotics & Automation

Robot dog imagesHistorically and traditionally the communications facilities and autonomous capabilities of a unmanned system have been completely independent. Communications and autonomy were stove piped sub-systems whose only interface was a port through which binary data was sent to the radio for transmission, and received from the radio for processing.

Advances in technologies have significantly changed the way radios are built, to the point where it is no longer just hardware that modulates and demodulates waveforms. On the leading edge of radio technology is the Software Defined Radio (SDR) paradigm, which implements a majority of the radio functionality as software, including the modulation and demodulation of waveforms. With its software underpinning, the SDR is an extremely flexible device whose performance characteristics can be easily modified via a software update. With such a large degree of flexibility, as is offered by a software approach, the question then becomes how to implement a SDR and how to ensure radio compatibility.

These questions of implementation and standards are addressed by the Software Communications Architecture (SCA), which is the defining standard for the U.S. Army’s Joint Tactical Radio Systems (JTRS) and is being adopted throughout the world for national SDR programs for countries in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and South America. The SCA responds to the challenges of implementing sophisticated radio control and algorithms by adopting the Component Based Software Engineering (CBSE) paradigm that provides a formalized approach to address the complexity problem.

Given that the robotics community has also adopted the same CBSE approach to deal with software complexity, a strong convergence exists between the communications and autonomy capabilities of an unmanned system. More specifically, it is now not only possible, but also desirable, to integrate autonomous capabilities with radio communications functionality. This integration onto a single hardware system offers a number of potential advantages:

  • Reduced implementation complexity
  • Weight savings
  • Lower overall power consumption
  • Increased flexibility, portability, reusability and expandability
  • Opportunities to optimize radio communications

robot imagesBoth the required hardware and software architecture/framework now exist that allows for the close integration of radio communications and autonomy capabilities into a single processor. The software development process can be expedited through the use of commercially available graphical modeling integrated development environments (IDEs) that greatly simplify the development of software components that implement core radio and autonomy capabilities. Those software components are then taken into the autonomous system and executed via the SCA Core Framework, which is a standardized deployment engine of software components for heterogeneous embedded distributed systems (HEDS).

It is no longer necessary to consider unmanned system radio communications and autonomy capabilities as separate stove piped systems. Technology is now available that allows for the close integration of the formerly independent sub-systems. With this close integration the autonomy software can influence the radio configuration and vice versa. The advantages to such an approach are numerous and will assist the designer/engineer in producing ever more capable unmanned systems that are more flexible and expandable than currently fielded products.

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