Earlier this month, Major General Nick Justice and several members of his staff traveled to Apple’s Cupertino campus to discuss soldiers using Apple’s products and technology in the field. In addition to having the most awesome name ever, Maj. Gen. Justice also heads the US Army’s Research, Development, and Engineering Command. He’s reportedly interested in moving the Army away from the custom-built “big green box” electronics that the Army has used over the past decades; instead, Justice wants the Army to investigate existing solutions from the commercial sector, including Apple’s portable lines.
Rather than continuing to invest heaps of money to research its own devices, Maj. Gen. Justice wants to take a different approach: leveraging the knowledge and research of the commercial sector into the Army’s portable equipment. This approach makes perfect sense for a number of reasons. Companies like Apple have already laid a lot of the groundwork for developing durable and easily portable devices, and their devices provide multiple functions with an extremely easy-to-use interface.
Thanks to TUAW reader Ryan for the tip.
One of the Army’s lead computer scientists working for the Communications-Electronics Research and Development Center said, “Apple technologies offer unique and proven solutions with intuitive designs that allow users to learn quickly without a training manual.” Indeed, most of the Army’s soldiers either own an iPod or have at least used one before. So whether we’re talking about a direct use of iPod touches and iPhones out in the field, or rather, Army-specific tech influenced by Apple’s design, there’s very little training needed to adapt soldiers to the technology. As a former member of the military myself, I can tell you that using simple interfaces like the iPhone OS in the Army’s portable equipment would be a huge step toward “soldier-proofing” the devices, making them both easier to use and more reliable in the field.
This isn’t the first we’ve heard of Apple’s portables being deployed for military applications. A Newsweek article from about a year ago noted the many uses that the iPod touch has seen on the battlefield already. It’s been used for everything from language translation to ballistics calculations for snipers in Afghanistan via an app called Bulletflight. Other US Department of Defense projects for the iPhone OS include software to display video from aerial drones, video conferencing with intelligence agents, and even a remote control app for bomb disposal robots. The Army’s Communications-Electronics Research and Development Center is also developing COIN Collector, a counter-insurgency information collection app, and MilSpace, a social networking/planning app.
Apple most likely didn’t have military applications in mind when they developed the iPhone OS, but the simple, yet flexible interface has drawn the military’s attention anyway. It may not reach the point where soldiers are given Army-issued iPod touches alongside their M-16s (although that would be a great recruitment tool), but it’s likely that, at the very least, future Army devices will draw much of their inspiration from Apple’s portable lines.