Jim DavisWhether it’s an IED-detection technology, intelligence collection system, smart ballistics or other military electronic system, the most simplified process across military applications is sense, detect, communicate and act. Improving these applications involves enhancing each of these steps. Electronic sensing techniques in their most basic form involve the transformation of a physical property into a voltage, current or resistance that can be calibrated and translated to standard physical units or data such as temperature, pressure, radio emissions, etc.

Ways to improve sensing techniques include:
1. Enhancements to the resolution of a sensor or further reducing the smallest change in a physical property that can be measured
2. The accuracy at which a sensor measures the change in a physical property, normally dependent on the accuracy of a known reference used to detect the change
3. The speed at which measurements can be sensed.

Depending on the application, the speed at which a sensor can accurately adjust its transformation from a physical characteristic to an electrical characteristic may also be important, such as an IED-detection system attached to a vehicle—the system would only be effective as long as it can accurately detect an IED at a faster rate than the moving vehicle.

The detection step in a military application interacts with the electrical sensor to measure the signal, and, based on an algorithm and set of thresholds, determines a set of steps to act upon: communication and depending on the application, some action. Improving the detection mechanism in this process involves improving the data path from sensor to detection system, as well as the detection system’s ability to perform at the same or better specifications of the sensor itself in terms of resolution, accuracy and speed. The path between sensor and detection system should remain at its most raw analog signal form with appropriate protections from external noise or signals that could change the characteristics of the flowing signal. The detection mechanism itself consists of an analog-to-digital converter (ADC) that digitizes the electrical signal into a form that a computer algorithm can then act upon. The resolution, speed and accuracy of the ADC and reference signals used should match that of the sensor to ensure the system can utilize the performance of the electrical sensor to its fullest extent.

The detection algorithm then dictates the communication and action for the system to perform. In an intelligence collection system, for example, collected signals may be stored, transmitted or through a set of preprogrammed functions, decipher information from the detected data. The system will then communicate or further analyze the deciphered information to develop intelligence that can be acted upon. Depending on the military applications a variety of communication standards and processes may be utilized—localized inter-process, internal system or external system communications.

In a military application’s most basic form, a physical unit is sensed and translated to an analog electrical signal. That signal is then measured, processed through a set of preprogrammed instructions, communicated and finally acted upon. Improvements in programmable system-on-chip technologies, such as the PSoC device from Cypress Semiconductor, combine these basic elements with high precision, programmable analog peripherals; highly accurate voltage references; programmable digital logic; a microcontroller to run the preprogrammed set of instructions; communication peripherals and digital-to-analog converters (DACs) to drive external responses and act. Combining these capabilities into a single, high-performance and low-power device like the PSoC further enables enhancements to these military applications to better and more accurately execute the mission of the application.