Historically, the displays deployed in military vehicles have been simple monitors, acting as an interface to an onboard system. That’s no longer good enough. As military vehicles are equipped with more and more technology, space — not to mention weight and power — is becoming scarce. Mono-functional systems are out; multifunctional systems are in, whether you’re designing new vehicles or retrofitting existing vehicles.
The VICTORY Architecture
That paradigm shift is nowhere better illustrated than in the US Army’s VICTORY (Vehicular Integration for C4ISR/EW Interoperability) architecture, which sees the elimination of duplication in functionality. In the past, each new subsystem brought with it its own processing capability, its own data storage, and often its own display. VICTORY looks to a future in which, by eliminating this duplication, significant savings can be made in size, weight and power (SWaP), not to mention cost. At its heart is a highly flexible, highly redundant, high-speed network — using Gigabit Ethernet — which provides common access to every attached device, and which connects sensors and storage to processors and displays.
The military vehicle onboard display of the future needs to respond to this change. Not only must it be rugged — capable of robust, reliable operation in environments that are subject to extremes of shock, vibration, heat, contaminants and so on — but it must, so far as it makes sense, be more than a display. There is, in fact, no reason why it cannot include the embedded computing capability needed for many of a vehicle’s functions. The question becomes: what does that embedded computing capability need to be capable of doing?
The majority of embedded single board computers deployed in military vehicles today are based on Intel’s Core 2 Duo processor architecture, recently refreshed with the announcement of the Intel’s Ivy Bridge technology.
GPUs Complement “Traditional” Processors
Increasingly, however, “general purpose” processors are being complemented by powerful graphics processors from companies like NVIDIA. The reason? The massively parallel architecture that makes a GPU (graphics processing unit) ideal for delivering fast moving, photo-realistic images to a screen is no less ideal for many of the most challenging military/aerospace applications that can equally leverage that parallelism, such as video and image- or radar processing. In an ideal world, such a capability could be made available within an in-vehicle display where processing requirements are particularly onerous, or it could be omitted for deployments that demand less processing power.
Integrating a single board computer within a display’s housing, in much the same way as a consumer-grade “all-inone” PC does, is the way forward, saving valuable space and cost. The real challenge, though, is how to ensure the display is sufficiently rugged to withstand the rigors of battlefield deployment.
If anything, the display, — including its housing and processing capability, — must be even more rugged than the embedded computing subsystems deployed aboard the vehicle (Figure 2). Whereas the rest of the system is often tucked away in unused corners, the display, by definition, is “front and center”, susceptible not only to the challenges of the battlefield environment, but also to inadvertent collisions with personnel in cramped surroundings, and to heavy-handed operation.
The single board computer embedded within the display will be designed and built using the same principles and in many cases the same components, as those applied to any single board computer destined for a harsh and power/cooling-constrained environment. It should be just as capable of having, for example, a conformal coating applied during manufacture in order to increase its ability to withstand contaminants.