Man, Bytes, Dog

Army Staff Sgt. Steven P. Meyers and his bomb-sniffing dog finish timing their daily practice run at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Courtesy of the Air Force

Every day Wright-Patterson Air Force Base synchronizes Palm handhelds with data for apps that manage gate security and training of bomb-sniffing dogs.

Courtesy of the Air Force

An Air Force base sends software to the dogs

At Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, a pair of Palm OS applications can confirm guests arriving for a retirement luncheon as well as train bomb-sniffing dogs.

The Defensor Mobile and Defensor Canine software duo handles entry-exit procedures at each gate of the Ohio base as well as training scenarios for each dog.

With $100,000 in funding from the Air Force Materiel Command IT Directorate, Wright-Patterson released a request for quotations for the mobile software about a year ago. In October 2002, the base awarded a contract to Global Bay Mobile Technologies Inc. of Edison, N.J., which had experience outfitting handheld devices with software for health care workers.

A four-person Materiel Systems Group Mobile team studied handheld hardware and opted for Palm 515m handhelds instead of Pocket PCs because the Palms could keep running through 14-hour shifts and were small enough for security guards to carry on their belts. The mobile group bought 70 devices for less than $300 each.

Defensor Mobile, with five components written in C and C++, is slightly more complex than the canine application. Defensor Mobile stores an event authorization list for every wedding, funeral, meeting, retirement, student field trip or luncheon that will occur on base in a 48-hour period.

About 300,000 visitors come to the base each year, and their names used to fill inch-thick piles of checklists and spreadsheets that had to be compiled for each of the three entry gates each day.

Defensor Mobile eliminated the paper piles and has cut the search time for each visitor's name.
'We don't want a guard flipping through paperwork as cars are coming up,' said Michael Barry, handheld business solutions manager for the Materiel Systems Group. 'The benefit there is security.'

Reminders on procedure

The guard writes the first few letters of a visitor's name with a stylus on the Palm screen. It brings up the event in question, tells the guard whether the person is prohibited from coming on base and reminds the guard about gate procedures, which used to be printed on laminated cards.

The Defensor software also lists privately owned weapons registered on base. Guards used to have to check by phone with their desk sergeants before knocking on a visitor's car door for an inspection.

By far the most popular feature, Barry said, is a turn-by-turn set of driving directions from the gate to the building the visitor wants. The guard can transmit the directions to an infrared printer three feet away and print them in less time than it would take to unfold a map.

'We have new personnel on the gates, and Army personnel on the gates, who don't really know the buildings here or how to get to them,' Barry said. 'This helps tremendously.'

Now in the second half of an eight-month pilot, Barry and his team are looking into adding gate-to-gate directions, as well as erecting visitor kiosks with the same information. They're discussing adding graphics to the software, such as photos of people on the unauthorized visitor list.

They also want supervisors to be able to post red-letter alerts that can't wait until the next group meeting. Such information could be pushed out to the Palms by software from Aether Systems Inc. of Owings Mills, Md., when they're hot-synchronized each morning.

Meanwhile, the Defensor Canine software has become the dog trainers' best friend, Barry said. It has cut at least two hours from their schedule by storing the daily practice results for bomb- and drug-sniffing dogs. The trainers used to have to carry clipboards of spreadsheets about each dog's daily discovery times and behavior, from sluggishness to aggressiveness.

Each spreadsheet required dozens of written notes. Trainers would fill in all the paperwork, then key it into a computer as supporting evidence in case their dogs made a bomb or drug discovery that went to court.

The mobile software removes several steps. Trainers enter their evaluations each day and can synchronize up to four months' worth of data with a PC. The software also supplies a stopwatch for training.

Trainers 'have to document everything they do,' said Sandeep Bhanote, chief executive officer and president of Global Bay. 'This app totally automates the documentation so they can concentrate on other things.'

Barry said he hopes to allow wireless transmission of the data between Palm devices, but he is waiting for stricter security.

A broader audience of, say, checklist-heavy inspectors could use similar software, he said. The software might be pushed to security personnel throughout the Air Force, which would cost about $2 million. Barry has briefed other bases and received positive responses.

'We could do it now, but it's a funding issue,' he said. 'Whenever you show something like this, they can think of 50 different ways to use it in their work. We don't even take our notebook PCs out in the field anymore when we brief.' Instead, he just carries his handheld.

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