Story and Photos By Art McQueen
U.S. Army Garrison-Miami Public AffairsU.S. Southern Command's Science, Technology and Experimentation division wowed the crowd at the Conference Center of the Americas on Wednesday, showcasing a wide spectrum of technologies that could help in disaster relief and humanitarian operations.The cutting-edge gadgetry included drones, portable water purification equipment, satellite communications that fits in luggage, and a device that breaks through language barriers with ease.There are some basic things you need in any crisis situation, explained John Perez, of SOUTHCOM's Theater Engagement directorate, "You need to have renewable power, so you don't have to go out and buy fuel when your generator dies; you need clean water, because after three days, even people in the best of health are going to start dying."Once those basic life maintenance items are present, Perez said, "you need situational awareness, and you need communications: among yourselves, first responders, people who are in need of aid, and a reach back to the outside world."On display in the courtyard was what looked like a soccer ball made from excess command shelter material. But the GATR satellite communications package is less about fun and more about reach back -- communicating with geo-stationary satellites without needing a truck and trailer. The system can be transported as checked luggage and takes only 30 minutes to assemble and set up.The military doesn't act alone in developing these technologies. Expo organizer Sandra Marina, deputy operational manager for the SOUTHCOM Science, Technology and Experimentation division, said that her office has been working and partnering with academia, corporations, government and non-governmental organizations to provide better tools to accomplish this mission."We have been working with Florida International University on the Western Hemisphere Information Exchange (WHIX)," said Marina. "It focuses on power generation and water purification. We worked with COMCUBE technology to enhance communications ability. We worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and others in the case of GeoSHAPE, to create, edit and share disaster-related information on a map."Why is this important? When aid and aid providers flow in large quantities to a troubled area, consistent mapping helps different responders to collaborate better and know what the other is doing."This way we can provide a faster, more effective response, save more lives and alleviate suffering in a population that is eager to receive assistance," she said.Even before power, a first requirement is clean water. As part of a system SOUTHCOM put together called Prepositioned Expeditionary Assistance Kits (PEAK), the Aspen 2000 water purification system can supply enough clean water to support 450 people for an extended period, according to Perez.The Aspen operates similar to the Army's Reverse Osmosis Water Purification Unit, but unlike the 10-kilowatt generator required, it draws less than 15 amps, or what would be available from a normal household outlet, said Perez, although the source can very flexible."It can put out 1,800 gallons per day from even the most heavily contaminated salt water," he said, noting it can pull water from up to 40 feet away within a broad operating envelope. The 400-pound device has been tested with Joint Task Force Bravo and in typical deployed configuration, can function for about 30 days, with simple maintenance.It was this system that led FIU's Jerry Miller and Gloria Dingeldein, associate director of the Applied Research Center to come up with an evolutionary idea while testing the GATR system in El Salvador."Our solar panels were producing so much extra power that we had excess that would be enough to run the water purification system. We had the idea to tie together the power systems and build a mobile medical center," said Miller.They did it, using wind turbines, battery backup systems, solar panels and a backup bio diesel generator. "The challenge was to combine all three power systems, since they were all on different phases," Miller said. We overcame that, and ran everything through the battery system."
The batteries allow excess power to be saved for future use. It's not the only planet-friendly technology in use."Our biomass gasifier system uses crushed coconut husks," he said. "When we tested it, we noticed everyone drinks the coconut milk and water and discards the husks onto the street." Miller said that once they told people they needed coconut shells, locals would gather them and sell them to the team, creating a micro industry -- and waste-free raw material.In order to communicate effectively, John Hall, president of Voxtec, was demonstrating the Squid SQ 410, a ruggedized, handheld speech-to-speech translation system."Free speech two-way translation is between thirteen different languages, including Spanish, French, German, Thai, Japanese, Indonesian and others," Hall said. "It does not have to be trained to your voice, nor does it have to be connected to a network."While the system may not detect the nuances between Venezuelan and Colombian Spanish, it will give good performance with either one of them. When you speak into the microphone, the device provides printed text verifying what it understood you said. Hall spoke as if to a patient: "You look very dehydrated, I need to put a needle in your arm to give you some fluids."Within seconds, "Te ves muy deshidratado, necessito ponerle una aguja en su brazo, para darle algo de liquidos," came out of the speaker in a remarkably un-robotic voice.The system will also translate in one direction from English to 70 other languages.Flying above the conversations taking place was Ricky Stuart, SOUTHCOM J7, who was demonstrating the InstantEye unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flying around the CCA lobby that was developed by Physical Sciences Incorporated with funding from the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office, the Army Research Laboratory and the Defense Department's Emerging Capabilities and Prototyping Office for use with ground forces."We have tested this device in Honduras with their equivalent of [Federal Emergency Management Agency] in a flooding scenario," Stuart said. The exercise proved that by using these GPS-enabled craft, first responders can get visibility into flooded areas from safety, and with the right network, the video can be streamed back to an emergency operations center for more detailed evaluation.The aircraft can fly up to 50 miles per hour, stay on station up to 30 minutes, and can carry up to a pound, meaning it can recover itself, or deliver a cell phone to facilitate communication. In July, InstantEye received FAA approval for use by an energy company to inspect infrastructure such as pipelines, power lines and insulators on towers.Flying even farther above the earth is Dan Jones, a Support Analyst for SOUTHCOM J72, who discussed the US Army's Space and Missile Defense Command (SMDC) Nanosatellite Program (SNaP) technology, currently scheduled to launch in the May 2015 timeframe, and hopefully demonstrating an affordable way to link disparate militaries.In satellite launching terms, Jones said, affordability means hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars -- instead of hundreds of millions to billions for large satellites.The nanosatellite, which weighs 5.5 kilograms, is designed to be compatible with not only US UHF mil-standard tactical radios, but Harris 5800 radios which partner nations traditionally use. The need for low-cost independent communication is almost unlimited. "The earthquake in Haiti took down all the cell towers and fiber optic lines," said Jones."When it came time to lease the commercial [satellite] bandwidth that was available, all 190 countries and NGOs were fighting for it. This is a low-cost, affordable constellation of satellites to enable people to communicate with equipment they already have," he said.Looking ahead, SOUTHCOM is partnering with Brazil, Colombia and Peru, Jones said. "In order to be interoperable in the future, we have to start identifying our common standards now."None of these efforts would be possible without great vision and assistance, Marina said."We always received great support from the command; from our boss, the director of Theater Engagement, Rear Admiral Scott Jerabek, and from Mr. Herb Newman, deputy chief of staff, who was very interested in the success of this project."Marina said that although the technologies represent a great step forward, "we never stop; we are constantly looking for new opportunities for new partnerships to do things in a more effective way -- faster, cheaper, smarter."