Convergence and the Internet of Things

Army Vehicles

In my role as the business development guy for our Ground Systems activities, I work a lot with embedded computing architectures on military vehicles. Convergence is an initiative that dominates the U.S. Army’s current thinking. It was mandated sometime in the last couple years as a way to eliminate the plethora of individual (and often incompatible) sub-systems in vehicles for communication, ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance), Command and Control and communications. The current mish-mash of devices and interfaces is clumsy, expensive, hard to maintain and upgrade as well as inefficient in SWaP (size, weight and power). Those who read this blog know that GE is all over the SWaP reduction thing, so it stands to reason that we would embrace convergence with a bear hug.

I was reading somewhere that the Army sees Convergence as delivering several vital benefits:

  • Open interfaces to enable rapid insertion of new capabilities, interoperability and a reduced SWaP 
  • Enable sharing of hardware and software components among C4ISR/EW capabilities
  • Allow technology refresh to keep pace with threats while improving reliability and robustness
  • Support current and future interoperability requirements and facilitate transition planning
  • Permit capabilities that are innovative but unplanned to be rapidly implemented: “future-proofing”
  • Reduce developmental and acquisition costs through greater commercial competition

When I saw this, I thought: “Wow! They want to build the IoT (Internet of Things)…into vehicles!” I immediately got the need for Convergence.

Speaking of the IoT: I read the tech press every day, and I’m constantly amazed at the amount of “stuff” coming out in home automation. Being an “early adopter” of the worst kind, I have already installed the Nest thermostat and smoke alarm, the Doorbot and the Lockitron. I have two robotic vacuums, various Rokus and an Internet-connected sprinkler control—and I even have a thing I put in my shoe to record my running. The list goes on, but the point is that these things all have their own ecosystem—“apps” that control them. But: they don’t communicate with each other. It’s clumsy and inelegant. You yourself may have discovered the frustration of getting your iPad to communicate with anything running Windows. 

Now imagine what the Army faces: modern fighting vehicles with critical, specialized subsystems that have different operating systems, proprietary interfaces and datasets. It’s all good kit, but the Army must pay big bucks to the vendors to get this gear useable as a fighting system. This takes a lot of time and money—both of which the Army is short on. With the birth of Convergence, the Army has adopted the Android philosophy—open systems, available to all makers of things, with open interfaces, so that those things can communicate with each other. Each subsystem is evaluated on how it contributes to the system (the fighting vehicle) and the mission rather than to a singular purpose. (“We cannot afford uni-taskers!”)

Today, the Army is well into demonstrating the straightforward interoperability of rugged-commercial, open source hardware under the Convergence initiative and GE has been right in the middle of that effort, supplying our latest rugged hardware for demonstrations and working closely with the many Army agencies involved in Convergence to help it along.

Here at GE, we are all over the IoT business. Years ago, our chairman committed our company to making the Industrial Internet a reality. Today, GE connects 10 billion devices on the Industrial Internet. It is a place where data flows seamlessly, control is adaptive and efficient and the system delivers maximum performance. More to the point, it connects seamlessly to the user in an intelligent way, providing its intended function without mystery—exactly what the Army seeks with Convergence.

So, at the Intelligent Platforms business that I’m with, we’re bringing the valuable lessons from GE’s enablement and creation of the Industrial Internet to the Army in the form of commercial, open standard, low SWaP embedded computing.

Convergence is alive and well at GE. It’s way more than something we have to ‘figure out’ to win contracts: it’s in our company DNA. 

Larry Schaffer

Larry Schaffer has been with us in a business development role since 2001, and works to create and maintain long-term, strategic relationships with key companies engaged in embedded computing for ground systems applications with a strong emphasis on image processing and distribution. He was born in Pennsylvania and educated as an Electrical Engineer in New Jersey and California (where he now lives). Just don’t ask him to tell you about being a war baby…

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