Tech Roundup

Tunnel Vision

The Homeland Security Department is ordering robots to probe underground passageways along the Southwest border for drug trafficking activity, according to contracting documents.

The Defense Department for several years has sent machines in place of troops to conduct reconnaissance and identify bombs and land mines throughout Middle East battle zones, but the technology is relatively new for DHS.

“A robotic solution is always being looked at to replace a Border Patrol agent from having to make initial entry into an illicit tunnel,” DHS said in documents justifying the need for a specific automaton brand, the Pointman. “This has always been a challenge since there is not one single robot solution for various types of illicit tunnels

Operators will be able to remotely shrink the rovers to a height of less than 7 inches to search beneath vehicles and enter confined spaces, such as under beds. They’ll also have “arms” for climbing stairs and “traversing” capability for trekking challenging terrain, such as rocks or clutter.  

Measuring at most 18 inches tall and 15 inches long, the robots will only roam about three miles per hour. They are designed to travel without human intervention for about 200 meters.  

The “Pointman robot significantly outperforms all wireless robots evaluated and tested” in the Tucson, Ariz., region, the documents noted, adding that other systems assessed could travel no more than 15 feet before losing control.

A yet-to-be hired contractor will be responsible for assembling the 17.5-pound machines from various commercial parts, including the Pointman and a mini DVR. Aliya Sternstein

Navy’s New One-Stop App  

A Navy news and information mobile application released in late August includes quick links for victims to report sexual harassment and for suicidal troops and veterans to get help.

The app also collects Navy news stories, shows the position of Navy fleets on a world map and has an events calendar with important Navy anniversaries, the dates of officer tests and other information. It will be available on Apple and Android devices as well as Windows 8 phones and Chromebooks, according to designer Christopher
Madden, manager for Navy media content services.

The military services have launched a handful of public-facing mobile apps already, including an Army news and information app and a Navy recruiting app. Madden’s strongest influence when designing the Navy news app, though, didn’t come from another service or government agency, but from the Bloomberg News app.

“Honestly, that’s what got my juices running,” he says. 

Joseph Marks

Streamlining Online ID

The U.S. Postal Service awarded Canadian firm SecureKey Technologies a contract worth up to $15 million for a pilot program that may one day allow citizens to securely use a single ID and password to access online services from multiple government agencies.

The Postal Service is managing the Federal Cloud Credential Exchange system as part of a cross-agency team set up by President Obama’s National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace, launched in 2011.

The plan is that the credential exchange will act as a middleman between agencies and popular private sector ID providers, such as Verizon and PayPal.

Joseph Marks

Army Takes 1.4 Million Email Accounts to the Cloud

In August, the Army completed transition of all its email accounts to a cloud service operated by the Defense Information Systems Agency.

The Army started the switch more than two years ago, in February 2011, but in early 2012 Congress told the service to pause the transition so the Pentagon could first certify the project “is in the best technical and financial interests of the Army, and provides for the maximum amount of competition possible.”

The switch includes 1.43 million unclassified email accounts and 115,000 classified accounts. The Army said it expects to save $76 million this year and $380 million through 2017 by using the DISA cloud rather than running its own email operations.

In today’s budget climate, that counts as real money. 

Bob Brewin

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