MONS Correspondent Marty Kauchak files end-of-the-day report from the US Air Force (USAF) Association-sponsored Air, Space and Cyber Conference at National Harbor, MD/USA. One of the not-so-subtle, persistent, recent themes on military conference exhibition floors and briefing rooms has been the need to strengthen the manned- and unmanned airborne platform’s role in ISR missions. San Diego, California-based ZMicro responded to this clarion call by recently announcing its new ZM3 rugged computer, which is designed specifically to minimise size, weight and power for airborne ISR applications and INSIGHT Video Enhancement product.
ZMicro has a rich legacy in the ISR market space. “We have quite a few products in USAF applications,” Paul Stewart, Director of Programs at ZMicro, explained and pointed out his company’s core competencies, “are in designing and building high performance ISR systems and you will find our products in several leading ISR applications. Our rugged displays are in the [General Atomics] Predator Block-30 Ground Control Stations and our rugged computers are found in many manned ISR platforms, such as MC-12 [militarised Hawker Beechcraft Super KING AIR 350]. Indeed, the corporate official noted this year’s AFA is a great forum for ZMicro to meet with existing customers and it is a great venue to introduce our technology to prospective customers. The USAF and the associated community is an important part of our business and the AFA show does a great job of bringing in both our key customers, who are system integrators and our end-users, the warfighter. This conference gives our company the opportunity to not only show our rugged computing solutions to programme offices but also an opportunity for our team to better understand the problems and issues that both our customers and end-users encounter.”
Stewart spoke to some of the emerging trends and customer requirements he is observing in this sector. As ISR applications have evolved and the software has become more sophisticated and visual, “we’ve seen a shift to heterogeneous processing architectures where software task are assigned to specialised processors that can efficiently share the computational load. For example, applications that require real-time analysis can off-load computation to a parallel processor such as a GPU [graphics processing unit] or FPGA [field-programmable gate array], while applications with near real-time requirements might leverage the CPU [central processing unit]. The role of GPUs has transitioned from merely supporting graphically intensive applications to leveraging the high performance CUDA [originally marketed by Nvidia as a compute unified device architecture] cores for real-time video exploitation.”
Accordingly, ZMicro recently announced its new ZM3 rugged computer which is designed specifically to minimize size, weight and power for airborne ISR applications. Stewart provided more insights on the product, noting: “It’s built to provide advanced compute capability in the smallest form-factor possible and so we’ve used COM [computer-on-module] Express Type 7 modules and the latest GPUs to offer full server capability in small, rugged packaging. The ZM3 incorporates two ZMicro TranzPak 1 compact removable M.2 NVMe [non-volatile memory] SSDs [solid state drives] for high capacity and best-in-class storage performance. In addition to a 16-Core Intel Xeon D processor, the ZM3 has support for a x16 GPU, up to the Nvidia Quadro P6000 GPU and a x8 encoder card for video ingestion.”
In an adjacent ISR product space, ZMicro developed its Insight real-time video enhancement system to enhance live video to reveal remarkable detail in degraded visual environments where factors such as fog, rain, dust, smoke, underwater, low light, or bright light can limit visibility.
Stewart concluded: “This year we are excited to demonstrate our new video enhancement product, Insight to the USAF community and to show our new compact computing platform, the ZM3 Computer. We hope that AFA 2017 will help us reach new programmes and get critical feedback that we can incorporate into our product roadmap.”