Naval Postgraduate School tests maritime 5G solutions
The Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) and AT&T will develop and test 5G and edge computing-based maritime solutions for potential use in national defense and home security.
As part of a three-year joint research and development agreement, high-speed, AT&T 5G networking and low-latency edge computing capabilities will bring 5G-focused experiments with artificial intelligence, data analytics, the Internet of Things, machine learning, robotics and smarter Basis support solutions. The experiments are being conducted as part of NPS’s Sea Land Air Military Research (SLAMR) program, which enables maritime experimentation with new technologies in various physical environments on the main campus and a beach laboratory in Monterey Bay, California.
Work began in July 2020 and will end in July 2023, with 5G expected to go live in mid-2022.
“We offer expertise in relation to the operating environment and the problem,” said Ray Büttner, Associate Professor of Information Science at the NPS. “AT&T brings their network know-how to the table, and then we will work with other companies and industry as well as government agencies and universities to tackle some of the tough problems and hopefully accelerate new skills for the war fighters.”
An example of these tough problems is navigating a large environment in a conflict with China, for example, said Büttner. The Pacific Ocean is vast and more than 2,000 islands are scattered across the region.
“Everything indicates that competitors like China may question or eliminate the high-bandwidth connections and connectivity used in military operations,” he said. “We have to learn to create bubbles of consistent, reliable communication and connect to computational resources, especially if they want to use things like artificial intelligence that are closer to the warrior, closer to the battlefield,” he said. “To investigate issues like this, we really need to understand the potential of technologies like 5G and network companies like AT&T.”
Although 5G has a relatively short range and is about 1,500 feet from a tower, Büttner believes it can be useful to incorporate these “bubbles” to support activities like virtual reality and AI on ships at sea. For example, a 5G node could be placed on a buoy and the natural movement of the waves could generate the electricity to power the node.
Another area of research is the control of drones and other autonomous air, surface and underwater systems.
In 2017, NPS was the world leader in drone development, he said. “We have actually shown that we can fly swarms of up to 50 vehicles, each of which is completely independent and operates on its own – without human operators,” said Büttner. “But the network technology to support a large-scale deployment of it really wasn’t enough in the 4G world.”
“What is really important is the autonomy – unmanned and unmanned vehicles – that can now connect at higher speeds and lower latency on these 5G networks,” added Lance Spencer, client executive vice president-defense at AT&T. “That helps because they want to improve the command and control of vehicles over the water.”
For SLAMR, signals aren’t sent underwater because the physics are completely different, he said. This exercise is about the ability of aircraft and submersible vehicles to connect on the surface or in the air.
The goal of SLAMR is to create a command and water operations facility for localized, unmanned aerial, surface and underwater robotic vehicle activities. This facility and its experimental vehicles would be connected and powered by AT&T network capabilities.
This isn’t the Department of Defense’s first foray into 5G. In October 2020 it is announced a $ 600 million contract for 5G experiments and testing on five installations, including smart warehousing, at Naval Base San Diego. On September 21, the DOD knocked on the Verizon Public Sector to deploy its 5G Ultra Wideband mobility service to seven Air Force Reserve Commands.
“I think the value of many of the prototypes, experiments, and collaborations that we see in DOD – and clearly a leadership position in the NPS – will demonstrate the viability of the deployment [5G] Ability, ”said Spencer. This research project will “create a wider opening to perhaps be used on a larger scale,” and apply the findings to any industry that depends on safe passage through water, such as commerce, transportation, shipping, oil and gas, he said .