General Dynamics to help develop wearable computers

General Dynamics Corp. of Falls Church, Va., is taking on a project to develop and deliver 10 prototype tablet computers powered by direct liquid fuel cells for the Air Force as part of a program to enhance the service's battlefield air operations equipment.

SRA International Inc., the prime contractor for the program, awarded General Dynamics $1.3 million to conduct the wearable computer power demonstration project.

General Dynamics will combine commercial off-the-shelf computer equipment with privately developed fuel cell technology, with the aim of enabling extended field operations that would reduce the Air Force's dependence on centrally located recharging equipment and spare batteries.

The company will be responsible for overall systems engineering, program management and subcontract management.

The immediate objective of the program is to develop a wearable computer that can be used by special forces troops in the field to handle ground-based air traffic control needs, said Chris Marzilli, senior vice president and deputy general manager for General Dynamics C4 Systems, the division undertaking the project.

'These are for scouts who determine the geography fit for landing tactical aircraft, [using] binoculars and trying to lase where his best landing approach is,' Marzilli said.

The improvement of fuel cell technology is critical to the project. 'Computer technology will always advance; the power systems traditionally have not advanced. Finally there's breakthrough technology,' he said.

General Dynamics is working with Itronix Corp. of Spokane, Wash., to adapt its GoBook tablet computers for the air traffic control application. The fuel cell systems will be supplied by Medis Technologies Ltd. of New York. The system will be field tested and evaluated by the Air Force Research Lab at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

The contract was announced Monday.

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