Giving new life to old technology

Solutions to problems are not always high-tech. A number of GTRI projects have fallen under the category of "technology insertion." This involves updating existing hardware or systems with the latest technology.

Technology insertion projects may involve reverse engineering, where new parts are built from scratch because spares are no longer available. Or they may involve extensive retrofitting, as in the case of Royal Australian Navy helicopters.

The decades-old helicopters were used for maritime surface surveillance, anti-surface warfare, and search-and-rescue missions. GTRI engineers stripped the fleet of SH-2G Super Seasprite helicopters down to the airframe and rebuilt them into state-of-the-art flying machines.

Human-factors engineers in GTRI's Electronics Systems Laboratory worked as subcontractors to Kaman Aerospace Corporation. The engineers focused on cockpit details, from the placement of controls to the development of computer software screens that comprise the heart of the new flight systems. Four computer display screens, as well as advanced flight and control electronics, replaced mechanical gauges, switches, and other cockpit devices.

Complicating the project was the requirement that the aircraft accomplish its missions with a crew of two rather than the crew of three — typical for this type of helicopter. The sensor operator position was eliminated, and the tactical coordination officer must operate the sensors and communications systems while also serving as co-pilot. GTRI's work ensured that the workload of both the co-pilot and pilot remained within acceptable limits.

In another example of frugal use of expensive military hardware, VHSIC Hardware Description Language software helped Georgia Tech researchers devise components that reduce the costly impact of integrated-circuit obsolescence.

The VHDL code captures inherent electrical/timing requirements in software, allowing manufacturers to replace older designs with current technology, thereby extending the radar's life. VHDL code allows a higher level of integration, reducing parts count and increasing reliability. Among the technique's applications was a board redesign in a particular radar deployed aboard F-15 aircraft.