ADELPHI, Md. — Army and industry researchers are working to deliver new technology so Soldiers can protect themselves and their assets on the battlefield using enhanced communication methods.
Through the U.S. Army’s xTech program, researchers from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command, known as DEVCOM, Army Research Laboratory and Syncopated Engineering found a common research ground that will protect future Soldiers.
xTech is an open topic competition sponsored by the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, or ASA(ALT), as part of the xTech program, targeting small businesses to uncover novel dual-use science and technology solutions to tackle the Army’s most critical modernization challenges.
The commercial company creates software applications and embedded systems for wireless communications, signal processing and machine learning. As a finalist in the third iteration of the xTech competition, it has since established a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement, or CRADA, and a joint work statement with DEVCOM ARL to develop enhanced radio systems for Soldiers.
“Our large radio-frequency, or RF, footprint makes us an easy target, putting our troops at significant risk,” said Jim Costabile, Syncopated Engineering founder and chief executive officer. “The problem is growing, and communicating less is clearly not the solution.”
The company’s Mockingbird RF system emulates multiple radio personalities and manipulates the spectrum to deceive and confuse the adversary at a fraction of the cost of the high-value assets, such as people and equipment, it has been designed to protect.
According to Jim Costabile, Syncopated Engineering founder and chief executive officer, Mockingbird generates signals with random traffic patterns and is not record and playback, which makes their signals last longer and more realistic. They also have the capability to learn the RF signals directly from actual RF emitters including the communications battle rhythm.
“This allows us to emulate specific systems, troops, or command posts based on their actual operational tempo and mission scenario, for example pre-mission, mission and post-mission RF scenes,” said Costablie.
The Mockingbird emulator of Army RF systems could be useful to current ARL programs that are developing tools and solutions for congested and contested electromagnetic environments, said Army researcher Kelly Sherbondy.
“To be able to leverage a tool to emulate RF signals of interest as a standard source to our cognitive research would be most useful,” said Sherbondy.
Sherbondy and Costabile discussed the partnership at length in the lab's June 30, 2021, podcast, What We Learned Today.
Costabile first learned about Army business opportunities through one of the laboratory’s Open Campus Open Houses.
“We were focusing on radio applications,” Costabile said. “We kept the technical discussion going and started working together. First on the SDRadar program and now on the Spectrum Access Sensor for Situational analYsis, or SASSY, project. We also established a CRADA with his organization.”
Costabile said that he and his company have been extremely fortunate to work with ARL.
“We continue to work with Kelly and Dr. Tony Martone on the SASSY program, where we are responsible for developing the research platforms and systems that help showcase the state-of-the art research from their organization and their university partners,” Costabile said. “Kelly and Tony are constantly pushing the limits of research, and we are fortunate to be able to continue to help them transition their research to programs of record through rapid prototyping.”
For Costabile and his company, the xTech competition provided an opportunity unlike ever before.
“Dual-use technology was a strong emphasis during the xTech process, and the process of pitch and refine really helped us understand that we could take our Mockingbird system to the commercial test and measurement market,” Costabile said. “We will be bringing to market a Mockingbird lab-grade system this year that will provide a rugged small-form factor spectrum analyzer and arbitrary RF signal generator. This system can be used to create rich RF scenes via a simple and intuitive web interface that can be used to test and verify spectral sensing and signal detection and identification algorithms.”
In addition, Costabile said, this rugged system can be taken from the lab to the field for real-time spectrum monitoring or over-the-air testing. The company is currently using this system to generate the complex RF interference scenarios required to evaluate the performance of ARL’s SASSY spectral sensing algorithms.
Costabile said he and the company are also looking forward to continuing their rapid prototyping engineering services with the Army.
“It turns out that the speed and efficiency of development that we need to build our solutions is equally valuable to ARL, enabling rapid demonstration of ARL’s state-of-the-art research in a rugged system that can be more easily transitioned to bigger Army programs,” Costabile said.
Costabile said his experience with the xTech competition was positive.
“The xTech team was amazing and challenging, and the new relationships both within the Army and their greater ecosystem have created new opportunities for us to focus, refine and deliver our solutions to expressed Army needs,” Costabile said. “We enjoyed the collaborative relationships we established with the other participants. We continue to work with several other participants to integrate their battery technology and create innovative foam packaging for expendable software radio solutions.”
For the Army researchers, the xTech program brings new life to their projects and overall mission.
“Developing the avenue for small innovative companies to directly collaborate and work with government researchers such as ARL benefits everyone,” Sherbondy said. “ARL obtains enthusiastic researchers eager to work on our smaller budgeted research and development programs. Syncopated obtains insights into the requirements and uniqueness of the military problem that they can take to future R&D programs.”
The next xTech competition is scheduled to launch in fall 2021 and will be open to all U.S.-based small businesses. Companies interested in more information about or participating in the xTech program, can visit https://www.arl.army.mil/xtechsearch/.
As the Army’s national research laboratory, ARL is operationalizing science to achieve transformational overmatch. Through collaboration across the command’s core technical competencies, DEVCOM leads in the discovery, development and delivery of the technology-based capabilities required to make Soldiers more successful at winning the nation’s wars and come home safely. DEVCOM Army Research Laboratory is an element of the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command. DEVCOM is a major subordinate command of the Army Futures Command.