MONTEREY — Some of the most cutting-edge warfighting technologies were on display this week as the Naval Postgraduate School played host to a number of young companies looking to better understand how to tap into the huge federal government marketplace.
The demonstrations were part of NPS’s Joint Interagency Field Experimentation that was conducted at the university’s Sea Land Air Military Research facility in Monterey and at Camp Roberts California National Guard base in South Monterey County.
On Thursday, Ray Buettner, who heads up the Joint Interagency Field Experimentation demonstrations for NPS, stood next to the Navy’s Aquatic Environment Laboratory at the Sea Land Air Military Research facility and explained how the program serves private sector and military needs.
With China becoming a top military and intelligence competitor to the United States, the secretary of the Navy challenged NPS to partner its research with that of emerging private-sector technologies, particularly in the arena of high-performance computing, artificial intelligence, robotics and unmanned autonomous systems like drones.
“Through these exercises, private industry learns what the government is interested in and the government learns what emerging technologies are out there,” Buettner said. “NPS is the conduit for the rest of the government.”
Often present at Joint Interagency Field Experimentation demonstrations are representatives from different federal agencies, including NASA and the Department of Homeland Security, that are taking a first look at the new products.
One of the emerging technologies is a high-performance computing system that sheds the need for large structures and cooling systems. High-performance computing pushes microchips hard and produces enormous amounts of heat, requiring sophisticated cooling. These systems can eat up 40% of the power consumed for cooling alone, Buettner said.
“Energy-wise it doesn’t make sense,” he said.
That fact has two disadvantages for the military. First is the size of the structures needed to house the servers and cooling systems; they are easily seen by satellite imaging. The second problem is that they lack mobility.
High-performance computing is used for solving advanced mathematical calculations and performing data processing through the use of computer modeling, simulation and analysis — all key applications for the military.
One company on hand Thursday has a solution that can solve the size and mobility problems. Texas-based TMGcore developed a high-performance computing system with a proprietary cooling ability that shrinks the hardware down to a size smaller than a typical refrigerator.
On Thursday, Seamus Egan, the vice president of original equipment manufacturing for server solutions at TMGcore, stepped into a vehicle the size of an RV and into an eerily blue environment with a computer system right out of a science fiction movie. It was entirely encased in a liquid medium with vapor bubbling to the surface that resembled the view looking down into a home fish aquarium, if the aquarium had a high-performance computer attached.
The proprietary liquid solution removes the heat energy by turning it into vapor that bubbles to the surface and is then recycled. The liquid — think of it as high-tech antifreeze — has no conductive ability that allows it to bathe heated chips.
The system can be contained in a ground vehicle as small as a Humvee or aboard a naval vessel. Ships are notoriously afflicted with vibrations that can wreak havoc on computer hardware and are presently dampened mechanically. But a computer submerged in liquid is buffered and prevents much of the impact from vibrations.
The concept excited NPS Ph.D student and Navy Lt. Nabil Tahan with the U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Tahan served in Afghanistan in 2017 and said a high-performance computing ability nearer downrange in combat zones could save lives.
He explained that medical facilities are rated 1 through 5, with the No. 1 tier being a corpsman in the field and 5 being a sophisticated trauma hospital like the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where many of the seriously injured troops have been flown since the beginning of the war.
Trauma care can create large amounts of information that requires more sophisticated tools that are currently available in the field — computing tools that provide the speed of analysis that can save lives, Tahan said. A small high-performance computer could collect medical data from a trauma victim and provide immediate treatment information. That information can then be sent to medical facilities like Landstuhl ahead of the patient.
Over in the experimentation pools on Thursday, Mike Flanigan, chief executive of San Diego-based Seasat, and his team were testing and demonstrating their technology that looks much like a flat, rectangular surfboard.
Topside is covered with a solar array that can power the tiny boat thousands of miles and right itself in all manner of rough seas. Flanigan said Seasat can provide naval operations with forward reconnaissance both in the air and undersea by collecting data that can provide vessels with information not only of what Seasat can see visually, but unseen factors such as ocean currents that can make vessel navigation safer and more effective, he said.
At the end of the day the private sector technology companies and military and government representatives achieved what they came for — a good look at each other.