For a soldier operating under the cover of darkness in enemy territory, the biggest challenge is navigation due to unfamiliar territory and lack of easily identifiable landmarks on ground. However, global positioning system (GPS), an interesting and useful technology to emerge in the last few years, is fast transforming military capabilities of nations throughout the world.
Closer home, a new hi-tech PDA with a GPS antenna to display military maps and location of other devices, prepares Indian soldiers for the 21th century battlefield. Till now, the Indian Army’s Saathi, a robust tactical GPS-enabled PDA with an integrated radio and a customised GIS application, accelerated the military advances of ground forces. Recently, Encore Software, a Bangalore-based product development company, joined hands with UK-based Sarantel to introduce new features such as precision location data in Saathi, thereby leveraging the potential of the GPS technology. Sarantel boasts of being a leading innovator in the design and manufacture of miniature antennas for portable and mobile wireless devices.
Essentially, the Sarantel GPS antenna will ensure that every Indian soldier with a Saathi, weighing no more than 875 gm, has optimum GPS reception across all environments and locations. The compact Saathi can easily fit into a soldier’s palm. It has a remotely operated self-destruction and activation feature for preventing misuse if it falls into an unauthorised persons’ hands. Encore Software, which has been behind the creation of the PDA, integrated Sarantel’s miniature GPS antenna in the Saathi to ensure that soldiers have stable GPS reception in unstable conditions. Sarantel’s GPS antenna does not confirm to any standard for rugged devices. It can also operate in ambient temperatures in the range of -10 deg C to 50 Deg C, and is water and dust resistant.
“Around 90 devices were supplied in March 2004 to the Indian Army for field trials. Subsequently, orders have been placed for another 390 units. In addition, approval for purchase of about 1,000 units has been obtained,” says Mark Mathais, president of Encore Software. It is seen that conventional antennas detune and become inefficient when in contact with RF-absorbing materials like the soldier’s hand or head. However, a key benefit of integrating Sarantel’s GPS antenna is that it ensures always-on frequency on the Saathi, Mr Mathais adds.
“GPS is an invaluable tool for the ground forces. The Sarantel GPS antenna provides superior reception in extreme conditions and enables soldiers to carry out their duties without having to worry about GPS performance,” says Oliver Leisten, CTO of Sarantel. The Sarantel antenna also works in random orientations because of the antenna’s omni-directional capability. This important capability removes the burden on soldiers to think about orienting their PDAs in order to achieve reliable performance, he adds.
According to Joe Murray, president, Asia Pacific, Sarantel, Encore’s position in India’s electronics industry is strong, and their military PDA design has potential beyond India. Even as the rapid progress in IT transforms military capabilities, it is becoming clear that information warfare will likely emerge as a new combat area. For the time being, Sarantel’s wireless equipment will transform the homegrown PDA into a navigation instrument and meet the information requirements of Indian soldiers.