Pre-Integrated Systems Take Mission-Oriented Focus

The demand continues for more complete, pre-integrated box levels systems. These mission computer products save military system developers a lot of time and cost while providing increased levels of compute density and expandability.


Gone now are the days pre-integrated box-level systems were just a niche or specialty segment of the embedded computing industry. Today they’ve been just a common as the single board computer. While there are a wide range of sizes and shapes of these systems, they are broadly defined as a set of embedded computing and I/O boards put together and delivered as a working system to provide a certain function, but are intended to be used in a military customer’s larger system.

A force that’s been driving the need for these systems is to satisfy military’s need for complete systems that are at a high TRL (Technology Readiness Level). It’s also part of the trend whereby prime contractors are increasing their reliance on technology supplier companies like embedded computing vendors. Often they want integration expertise and a level of software development as part of those integration efforts. Part of that trend is fueled by the need for primes to contain their costs-especially in this era of tight budget constraints.

Demo-Ready Systems

Pre-integrated systems also are in line with DoD procurement policies that now insist on more demonstration of new technologies and pushes for demonstrations earlier in the program development phase. Burned by program schedule delays and cost overruns, program decision makers are wary of immature technology implementations throwing hurdles into programs. As a result there’s pressure to show higher Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs) than previously required. The embedded computing industry has responded to these needs with prepackaged and prequalified subsystems that are attractive especially when primes find themselves without the time or the DoD funding to develop a prototype subsystem themselves.

While most pre-integrated systems lack any sort of standard formatting, one of the most interesting twists in this technology area the last six months has been the emergence on VNX (VITA 74) based solutions. Along those lines, in May Creative Electronic Systems (CES) announced the integration of the Intel Atom E3845 processor in the ROCK-3 series as well as support for Wind River safe and secure operating system along with CoreAVI’s real time and safety critical suite of OpenGL drivers (Figure 1). CES ROCK-3 family is the first product line of mission computers based on VNX (VITA 74); a standards-based approach to conduction-cooled small form factor systems. The integration of the Intel Atom E3845 processor expands the range of processors offered by CES in order to accommodate the different needs that the embedded community is requesting. In addition to the AMD G-Series SoC and the Intel Atom E3845 processor CES is working on the integration of several other processor architectures.

Figure 1 The ROCK-3 family is the first product line of mission computers based on VNX (VITA 74); a standards-based approach to conduction-cooled small form factor systems.

The support for Wind River VxWorks 653 Platform along with CoreAVi’s OpenGL drivers is the very first integration done in a VNX form factor. It is a step toward DO-178 safety certification and the ability to address safety critical applications within a small form factor mission computer. A new member of the ROCK-3 family with four 19mm slots and one 12.5mm slot is under development and will be soon available.

SWaP and Mezzanine Expansion

Size, Weight and Power (SWaP) has definitely risen to the forefront of a lot of today’s military system design requirements. Feeding that need, Acromag offers the ARCX box, a rugged small form factor mission computer with expandable features that include PMC, XMC, mini PCIe, mSATA module slots, optional front I/O panel, and secondary connectors. This SFF mission computer was engineered rugged with Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) in mind to address space requirements of vehicle electronics. Compatible with industry standards and manufactured to IP67 standards and shock and vibration tested to MIL-STD-810G these computers are available as either a single PMC/XMC slot or double PMC/XMC slot versions.

The SFF computer comes equipped with a high-performance Intel 4th generation Core i5/i7 CPU, built-in power supply and a power filter. A rugged design includes thick circuit boards and high shock and vibration SODIMM hold-down mechanism and heat sink plus it is cableless and fanless. Choose from a 4th generation Intel Core i7 or i5 processor, single or double PMC/XMC expansion slots, convection or conduction cooling, and a power filter option are all included standard options. Up to 16 Gbytes total of 1600 DDR3L ECC memory and several interface connections make this a complete deployable solution for a wide range of industrial, military and aerospace applications.

PCIe/104 Expansion Fuels Flexibility

PC/104 and its follow on PCIe/104 is a great technology for mixing and matching functionalities. But integrating such a system takes time and effort. That’s why pre-integrated approaches like RTD Embedded Technologies offers are a good approach. Last fall RTD announced a robust Core i7 CPU-based mission computer that offers high-performance for rugged applications in extended temperature environments. Developers can choose from single-core, dual-core, and quad-core configurations. These systems feature a synchronized power supply, an integrated 2.5-inch SATA carrier, and standard I/O including Gigabit Ethernet, USB, Serial, SVGA, DisplayPort, and programmable digital I/O.

The CPU is designed with soldered SDRAM and solid-state flash storage for high shock and vibration situations. The stackable PCIe/104 architecture allows system expandability for additional DAQ, I/O, storage, and network functionality (Figure 2). The Core i7 system is compatible with RTD’s complete line of IDAN data acquisition and peripheral modules. Tailored solutions include conformal coating, watertight enclosures with cylindrical MIL-SPEC connectors, and a variety of custom mounting, LED, and paint options.

Figure 2 For this Core i7 CPU-based mission computer developers can choose from single-core, dual-core, and quad-core configurations. The stackable PCIe/104 architecture allows system expandability for additional DAQ, I/O, storage, and network functionality.

Also taking the PCIe/104 expansion approach is Systel with its EB7001, a rugged small form factor 3 in 1 platform. It offers the power of a single i7 4700 quad core CPU for critical computing, up to 1.5 GB SSD storage, and Quad HDSDI encoding. PCIe/104 expansion bus GB/E, serial and DIO cards may be installed to further expand the already powerful system. The optional removable SSD allows secure storage of mission data. The state of the art EB7001 embedded computer is an extreme duty system designed for military operations, oilfield services, OEM, and all other rugged industrial environments. The full array of optional cards makes the EB7001 a customizable candidate for many different types of computing applications.

FPGA-based Small Form Factor System

The addition of FPGA processing can turn a pre-integrated system in to powerful signal processing platform. With that in mind, 4DSP’s CES720 (Compact Embedded System) is a stand-alone, small form factor embedded system designed to provide a complete and generic processing platform for data acquisition, signal processing and communication. The system is housed in an enclosure measuring five inches per side and weighing less than 1 kg. It features a low-power x86 CPU tightly coupled to a high-performance Xilinx Kintex-7 and FPGA Mezzanine Card (FMC – VITA 57.1). The Kintex-7 410T FPGA provides a flexible and powerful processing backbone for interfacing to the FMC site, CPU and external DDR3 SDRAM, with plenty of room left over for high-performance Digital Signal Processing.

Embedded Mission Computer Design Win

In an example of a complete mission computer solution, ADL Embedded Solutions in June announced it was selected by NIITEK, a Chemring Group company, to be the sole provider of its embedded mission computing solutions for NIITEK’s Husky Mounted Detection System (HMDS) next generation offering to the U.S. Army’s HMDS A2 Program of Record. The HMDS A2 uses the NIITEK Time-Domain Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR). In a parallel/complementary project, ADL Embedded Solutions will also form the “brain” of the HMDS International Sales Variant utilizing the 3D-Radar Step-Frequency GPR. ADL will also be assisting NIITEK in retrofitting the existing HMDS A1 fleet with its embedded computing solutions via a separate effort.

The HMDS is a high-performance ground penetrating radar system which functions on manned and unmanned, blast resistant vehicles that provide rapid ability to detect anti-vehicular landmines and other explosive hazards such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) on main supply routes and open areas (Figure 3). NIITEK has been developing the HMDS since 2006 successfully supporting the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps and other coalition partners with HMDS systems in Afghanistan through a Joint Urgent Operational Need (JUON) requirement now known as the HMDS A1.

Figure 3 ADL Embedded Solutions was selected by NIITEK, a Chemring Group company, to provider its embedded mission computing solutions for the U.S. Army’s HMDS A2 Program of Record.

4DSP Austin, TX. (800) 816-1751

Acromag Wixom, MI (248) 295-0310

ADL Embedded Solutions San Diego, CA. (858) 490-0597.

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions Ashburn, VA (703) 779-7800

RTD Embedded Technologies State College, PA (814) 234-8087

Systel Sugar Land, TX (281) 313-3600




Pre-Qualified Systems Speed Deployment and Cut Costs

Jason Shields, Curtiss-Wright Defense Systems

Today, the typical approach taken by system designers looking to use COTS systems is to first determine their application’s requirements. They next turn those requirements into a system architecture by evaluating available COTS industry products. After they evaluate and understand the capabilities of these modules, backplanes and chassis, the system designer will modify their original architecture accordingly.  This architecture then goes out for bid, a vendor is selected and the hardware is purchased. At this point the system designer has to validate and test their design. This process can be costly and time consuming. A better approach, one that can significantly reduce program risk and saves money while cutting development time, is for the system designer to select Pre-Qualified Systems.

If the COTS vendor can provide the system designer with a Pre-Qualified System, one that is certified at no additional cost to the customer to meet the demanding MIL-STD-810, MIL-STD-461 and RTCA/DO-160 military and aviation environmental engineering standards, huge benefits can accrue. Pre-qualified systems eliminate the need for customers to undertake their own time-consuming, costly, and risk-fraught process of building new systems from the ground up in order to meet demanding performance requirements.

Designed for optimal performance in deployed harsh environments, Pre-Qualified Systems can save customers tens of thousands of dollars and multiple weeks (typically 8-12 weeks) of development time that would otherwise be required to meet MIL-STD-810/MIL-STD-461/ RTCA/DO-160 testing requirements. They also save significant amounts of time before environmental testing even begins, because the lead-time to delivery of the first testable system can shrink from the typical 10 months-to-2 years frequently seen for a customer’s internal hardware development phase, to a matter of several months. Because Pre-Qualified Subsystems have already undergone comprehensive and rigorous worst case hardware testing they reduce the customers’ development costs and slash their application’s time to deployment, giving system integrators using these products a huge head-start on their system development cycle.

Pre-Qualified systems eliminate the additional cost that system designers would otherwise incur from NRE-funded “delta” testing or “qualification-by-similarity” analysis of existing MIL-STD certified products. That’s because each pre-qualified subsystem has already undergone full environmental and architectural pre-qualification testing and is supported with comprehensive test report data. By providing  MIL-STD-810, MIL-STD-461, and RTCA/DO-160 testing, COTS vendors help speed and ease the integration of rugged SWaP-C optimized subsystems into a wide range of deployed avionics and ground platforms for use in demanding mission computer, flight control, and radar processing applications. This comprehensive testing enables the customer to focus on developing their important application rather than the underlying hardware.

Taking the lead in delivering the benefits of the Pre-Qualified System approach to the COTS market, Curtiss-Wright has defined a family of systems based on the most popular configurations of our MPMC (Multi-Platform Mission Computer) application ready COTS subsystems. These rugged MPMCs feature verified operating systems and device driver support and are ready for deployment. They field-proven mission computers support all the most popular defense and aerospace open architectures, including 3U and 6U, with configurations ranging from 1 to 5 slots.