A five-year project to automatically transfer data around the battlespace comes to fruition this month when Cassidian, the defense and security arm of the Airbus Group, launches the Mobile IP Node at the Defense and Security Equipment International (DSEi) exhibition here.

Originally part of the company's contribution to the U.K.'s Autonomous Systems Technology Related Airborne Evaluation and Assessment (Astraea)program, created to streamline the entry of unmanned aircraft into civilian airspace, the Mobile IP Node has applications across multiple domains.

Cassidian officials at first feared the system was going to arrive to the market too late. “At DSEi two years ago, four companies had mobile IP [Internet protocol] nodes on their stands,” says Max Baldwin, head of strategy for the U.K. and Nordic countries. “We thought we had missed the boat. But when we investigated what they did, it was mobile or deployed fixed networks.”

The key to the Mobile IP Node is its ability to continuously update and adapt itself to ensure data find the path of least resistance across a network. Each platform with a node—which will eventually fit in the palm of the hand—automatically connects to other nodes within range of the platform's onboard radio. Once linked, a node works as a data hub, receiving or transmitting information, but also acting as a transit point for data in the network.

The network establishes the best route for data transmission, depending on priorities set before an operation. No operator action is required after mission priorities are assigned to the system. Users do not need technical expertise, nor will a mission be interrupted to adjust network settings or performance. The system is radio-agnostic.

“By understanding what communications the radio-frequency side can achieve, then through cryptography to the applications side, we can inform applications about what they are capable of achieving,” says Gary Clayton, U.K. head of research and technology. “The application tailors what it sends. For example, instead of trying to force high-definition video down a link that cannot take it, the node sends it in low resolution and only the part of interest in high resolution. Or it will crop the stills, then go back to video when the link changes.”

The best route through the network changes as each platform moves. The initial problem the system set out to solve was eliminating communication latency when pilots of remotely operated aircraft liaised with air traffic controllers.

Demonstrating this capability in an air environment is expensive, time-consuming and complicated, so Cassidian developed a ground-based demonstration. The company put Mobile IP Nodes in five Mini Cooper automobiles and drove them around a communications “black spot” in the Brecon Beacons mountains in Wales. Two more nodes were placed in the test area—one fixed, the other on a train.

Data-transfer routes and network strength information were recorded, along with GPS coordinates for all platforms. These were compiled in 3-D animation, with strong links shown as green lines connecting nodes, weaker links in yellow and the weakest in red. Links change color and direction as the network selects the optimum means of delivering pre-assigned priorities.

“We had wet trees, high-sided mountains, a lake with a big curve and water reflections,” Clayton says. “It was a difficult environment. What we saw was that the links all changed and used the train, because that was the best route to get data through.”

The same capability was demonstrated in real time at the Defense Vehicle Dynamics show in Millbrook, England, in June, with nodes installed on Iveco trucks and the links changing as the vehicles drove around test tracks. Potential user scenarios included emergency response, particularly in bandwidth-constrained environments, as well as aviation and ground-based military use.

“We are talking to Iveco about military and non-military uses, because there is no other nodal network that works like this,” says Baldwin.