Defense Update | September 6, 2006
Secure Communicating Optical Ultra-Small Transponder (SCOUT)
The U.S. Army is funding the development of a new combat identification device that will be able to warn dismounted soldiers, pilots, tank gunners or missile operators as they aim their weapons on friendly troops. The new system will identify between Friend and Foe (IFF) utilizing a low-power active optical device that can be patched on the uniform, helmet or around the vehicle's sides.
The patches will respond to an incoming coded infrared aiming laser system, modulating the reflected beam with their unique IFF code. Slightly larger than a matchbox the ultra-low power transponder will be located on the IFF patch and will establish reliable battlefield identification between friendly ground forces at all ranges where lasers are effective (up to 10kilometers). The device will also enable secure and covert ground- and air-based communication among soldiers and vehicles. SCOUT technology is under development at the MEMS specialist Boston Micromachines Corporation and research partner Boston University, under a first phase US$100,000 Small Business Technology Transfer Program. The program is scheduled to mature over the next 12 months and be ready for implementation in within two years.
The device, known as "Secure Communicating Optical Ultra-small Transponder" (SCOUT) will utilize Micro-Electro-Mechanical System (MEMS) based modulated "active mirror", which will be activated by a coded incoming laser and reflect the beam back to the source, modulated with its unique identification code. SCOUT compatible lasers will be implemented as upgrades for current laser rangefinders and designators, thus offering seamless integration to existing systems. SCOUT technology promises to extend beyond Identify Friend or Foe (IFF), to include situational awareness, covert communication and reading from remote sensors such as bio-weapon detector and motion trackers.
The device has several inherent advantages. First, unlike RF transmitters, SCOUT does not send an omni-directional signal but instead directs an optical signal along a narrow path which is not spotted by conventional laser detection systems, increasing security and stealth with minimal power consumption. Second, since all optical energy comes from the source, SCOUT requires no on-board transmission power.
The Active Mirror technology uses a deformable mirror surface to modulate and reflect light through a simple optic, returning the beam to its point of origin. The heart of the system is a wavefront control device, which consists of a mirror membrane supported by an underlying actuator array. Each actuator in the array can be individually deflected by electrostatic actuation to achieve the desired pattern of deformation. SCOUT will implement standard bulk micromachining (CMOS) production technologies to reduce production and acquisition costs.