Military Embedded Systems

Not your dad's LCDs


July 27, 2012

Charlotte Adams

Abaco Systems

Rugged smart displays equipped with their own computing resources are in the modernization plans for U.S. Army ground combat vehicles, not your living room.

When Liquid Crystal Displays (LCDs) began to replace Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) displays, the newcomers seemed revolutionary. Despite some drawbacks, LCDs were much smaller, lighter, and more power efficient than the older TV tubes that they were clearly the way of the future. But that was then. Much more is expected now of LCDs in a world of inter- and intra-connected platforms and asymmetrical warfare.

In its 2012 modernization plan, the U.S. Army stresses connectivity and situational awareness as key goals. It also emphasizes the need to upgrade its tracked and wheeled fleets and develop a new ground combat vehicle to support land operations. As a key convergence point for situational awareness technologies, displays will play an important role in these programs.

High bar

Tomorrow’s vehicles will be far more networked than before, and their visual systems will need to exploit this advantage. That means, for example, the ability to receive, present, and, if necessary, integrate multiple, simultaneous video feeds from vehicle and external sensors and to update target data in real time. Yet all this must be done within tight Size, Weight, and Power (SWaP) constraints and ever-present budget limitations.

Modern architectures call for sensors around the vehicles, typically feeding data to the displays via 1 GbE links. Other architectures employ 10 GbE backbones to move video around the vehicle. Ethernet-equipped displays can tap into either data stream, and ideally displays will support both data rates. Both architectures eliminate the need for a separate box to drive the signals to the display head. This consolidation also reduces the noise, jitter, and attenuation that can be induced by the older technology.

Commanders want to maximize visual awareness by stitching together sensor inputs into a full-circle view of the vehicle’s surroundings. Additionally, they need to run motion detection and facial recognition applications in order to identify potential threats. The displays must also support the latest battle management software and have the sharpness and 3D realism necessary for embedded training exercises for troops on long deployments. And they must be easily integrated into existing architectures yet bridge to meet future needs.

How can they do that? The answer is smart displays, LCDs packaged in small enclosures with their own computing resources – high-speed, multicore, multifunctional processors and data communication interfaces. Figure 1 shows an example of this new breed of intelligent displays, the GE Intelligent Platforms 10.4-inch IVD2010 with Intel CPU and NVIDIA General Purpose Graphics Processing Unit (GPGPU). These widely used COTS components are backed by suppliers’ long-term commitments and solid software support.


Figure 1: The IVD2010 from GE Intelligent Platforms combines significant processing capability within a rugged exterior.

(Click graphic to zoom)




Tough cookie

Land vehicle displays are subject to a very bouncy ride as their host platforms bulldoze their way across broken, hostile, and harsh terrain in unpredictable areas of the world. Hence, the displays need to withstand high levels of shock and vibration, as well as temperature and humidity extremes. Laminating together the layers of the display also prevents distortions caused by moisture ingress and holds the layers in vertical alignment.

Because interiors are cramped, displays also must be protected against accidental damage. Toughened glass guards against occasional encounters with the guns and other equipment of the soldiers inside.

Operating the display while on the move is also a challenge. Yet it is essential to push the right key and not the wrong one by mistake. Engineering helps to make sure that the user can operate the display under adverse conditions. Thus, some displays use resistive technology that requires a positive touch force to activate.

The variables of combat further dictate that the displays be usable under all visibility conditions, from bright sunlight to the dark of night. Thus, the glass needs to be both sunlight-readable, dimmable, and compatible with night vision goggles.

Smart approach

The U.S. Army plans to spend billions of dollars in its ground movement and maneuver portfolio. While not all of the vehicles will need the most sophisticated displays, it’s safe to say that the military will not be using your dad’s LCDs. Rather, they will want intelligent displays that integrate glass, touch screens, and coatings with processing and data communications in affordable, evolvable products.

Contact Charlotte at [email protected].


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GE Intelligent Platforms, Inc.

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Boston, MA 02210