By SUE VORENBERG
Scripps Howard News Service
July 08, 2005
At Sandia National Laboratories, engineers are hoping their new ultra-covert type of wireless communications can save the lives of soldiers while letting generals and military officials track exactly where they are on a battlefield, said Tim Cooley, a Sandia researcher.
"Unlike other types of wireless communications, this is very hard to detect and very resistant to jamming," Cooley said. "You don't get that with other types of wireless. One application for it is advanced force protection - where we can monitor each man going out in the field as well as their vital signs.
"If they get hurt," he added, "we'll know exactly where they are and how they're doing."
As it sends out information, the technology also protects the data from being seen by hostile forces, said Michael Padilla, a labs spokesman.
"(The system) helps soldiers in the field, because the technology can prevent enemies or combat adversaries from detecting or jamming their wireless communication and giving away their position," Padilla said. "It can also be combined with radar to form a new type of sensor to detect the presence of nearby adversaries."
The system is made of small sensors, transmitters and computer encryption combined into a wireless "ultra-wideband" network that is virtually hacker-proof, Cooley said.
In the past few months, the Department of Energy has started to use the technology in a simpler way - to keep an eye on critical assets, he added.
"You might want to create a buried system of wireless sensors on a roadway where you constantly look for nuclear signals or weapons materials," Cooley said. "If I have my sensors hidden I don't want anybody to pick them up with a spectrum analyzer. That sort of defeats the point. This makes the signals look just like background noise. It's very stealthy."
Police and rescue workers might also take advantage of the technology to monitor firefighters when they go into a fire or SWAT-team members when they go into a dangerous situation, Cooley said.
"You could also use this technology in hospitals for medical purposes," he added. "You could track patients' breathing, heart rate, without the wires - all you'd need is a sensor above them. And that information could transmit wirelessly directly to a nursing station."
The system is too expensive for troops or emergency workers at this point, but that likely won't be the case in five years or so. By then he expects the price will drop to between $10 to $100 per soldier, Cooley said.
In the meantime the Department of Energy will continue to expand its use of the technology to secretly keep an eye out for terrorists and to protect the nation's weapons, he added.
"Wireless technology might not sound like it, but this stealth version is a life-and-death issue for many people who need to stay hidden for survival," Cooley said.
"It's really fascinating, very covert, smaller and simpler than other wireless. It has a lot of potential both now and in the future."
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