GE Rugged and COTS: It's a Win-Win

Lunar Lander

I recently participated in an Open Systems Media e-cast entitled "Where is COTS technology today?" hosted by John McHale. If you missed it, you can check out the recording here.

It touched on the questions we often hear from customers:

Has COTS really delivered...

  • Lower costs?
  • Reduced deployment times?
  • Simplified testing?
  • Easier integration?
  • Increases in innovation?
  • Reliability and quality?

And, perhaps most importantly:

  • ...lower costs?

There was also discussion about vendor lock-in, NRE and lifecycle management.

My fellow e-cast speakers talked about these issues and described how the industry is addressing such concerns. I chose to take a slightly different tack and touched on something maybe a little unique to GE.

COTS is thriving

The fact is that COTS is thrivingcommercial off-the-shelf technology is addressing military needs. But what people may not know is that the resultant products and technology are now flowing back to commercial markets, and I believe this trend will grow as the Industrial Internet picks up steam. I also believe the trend is very healthy for our military customers.

Here’s the thing about the Industrial Internet, or the Industrial Internet of Things. Just like on the military battlefield, where every piece of equipment has become a sensor and every sensor is sharing data, machines operating in factories, mines, energy distribution, oil and gas, and transportation (just to name a few) are all becoming sensors. 

This means that mining trucks, turbines, oil drills and factory equipment now require computers and networking gear to operate. Have you seen some of these machines? 

Mining Truck
Brentwood Higman, Erin McKittrick | GroundTruth Trekking

Take a mining truck, for example. Those things are dirty; they’re exposed to some really harsh elements; they get banged-up daily; they’re tough; and they’re built to last. I spoke to a company recently who is interested in using GE's rugged embedded computing and communications electronics to build autonomous mining trucks. They’re talking to us because we have the products today that can operate in such harsh environments. They need GE Rugged products. It just so happens that these products were originally designed for military customers.

COTS on the moon

The Industrial Internet is real and it is growing rapidly as people realize the business potential of all the sensor data those big, tough, dirty machines can produce. But it is not all about factories and industrial machines. All sorts of machines are getting smarter and demanding a GE Rugged "embedded brain." We released a video recently with one such example—a race to the moon.

You think a mine truck needs rugged electronics? Well, just think how tough the gear needs to be to get blasted into space on a rocket, land on the moon, hang out for a while transmitting high-definition video back to earth and do it on a juice-diet requiring sips (not gulps) from a battery. 

You can see our video here.

Now, to be completely honest, the footage in that video didn't come from the moon. It came from a rock quarry just outside of Pittsburgh. It was there that Astrobotic successfully completed their lunar rover test and nabbed $750,000 in Milestone Prize money from the XPrize Foundation. GE was along for the ride with some rugged computing based on NVIDIA Tegra SoCs. 

The Tegra silicon enables the high performance computing used to calculate a precision landing on the moon—something that even NASA hasn’t done yet (there is no GPS on the moon; it's all done autonomously with cameras and maps). Of course an SoC built for graphics is pretty good at handling the video processing part of the mission as well. The best thing is that Tegra silicon was built for mobile devices, and so it all runs on batteries. 

Who knows? By the time Astrobotic actually goes to the moon, they may decide to go in a different technology direction—but the fact of the matter is, when they needed rugged computing, they came to GE. And, once again, they used equipment designed for our military customers. It was GE Rugged.

So why should our Connected Battlefield customers care about all these industrial applications and a race to the moon? It comes back to that question about COTS delivering on lower costs. Much of that cost equation comes down to volume. Many traditional military applications just do not demand significant volumes. In comparison, the Industrial Internet explosion is projected to drive massive volumes. We here at GE are enabling that growth with rugged embedded computing, leveraging our investments in rugged engineering, thermal management and security designed for the military. 

Everyone will win.

Rubin Dhillon

Rubin has spent over 20 years in the embedded computing world, in roles ranging from support to sales to product management and even garbage collector. He experienced the huge growth (and crash) of the telecom industry, and he's spent time dabbling in medical, industrial, transportation and military applications. Rubin figured he has so many stories to tell, he should get into marketing and so he is now our Global Director of Marketing for all things embedded. Connect with Rubin on LinkedIn and he'll explain the "garbage collector" story…

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