Military Embedded Systems

The Raspberry Pi SWaP-C revolution: driving battlefield IoT


December 01, 2022

David Jedynak


The Raspberry Pi SWaP-C revolution: driving battlefield IoT

For more than ten years, the educational, industrial, and hobbyist markets have embraced the small-form-factor Raspberry Pi single-board computer (SBC) as a preferred low-cost, low-power tool that lowers the barrier for deploying intelligence and connectivity just about anywhere that imagination directs. The result is a ubiquitous platform, with more than 45 million units sold. Today, these tiny cards are helping to make the Internet of Things (IoT) concept a reality.

Meanwhile, Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2), the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) vision for the netcentric battlefield, scales all the way from the cloud – making all data sharable – down to the ground level where that data needs to be ­collected and distributed.

The JADC2 goal is for all platforms to be intelligent and connected to the network using a Modular Open Systems Approach (MOSA). That directive re­quires cost-effective solutions in a form factor that can operate way out at the tactical edge. Such applications often require a fully integrated rugged mission computer built with OpenVPX cards. In a lot of cases, however, a “good-enough” level of processor performance and I/O feature set is all that’s needed. For size, weight, power, and cost (SWaP-C)-constrained applications, a military-grade Raspberry Pi-based mission computer defines a whole new class of solution for intelligence and connectivity at the tactical edge.

Already in its 4th generation, the Raspberry Pi SBC combines surprisingly good processor performance with many I/O options that enable system designers to think about networked connected processing more in terms of a “widget” that can be located just about anywhere to solve small problems. It provides defense system designers with a new tool; one not designed for a specific application, but thanks to its minimal SWaP-C burden, one appropriate for a vast number of applications. Because of its small size, affordability, and low-power consumption profile, this small SBC can drive new applications yet undreamed of.

To make that vision a reality, the Raspberry Pi device needs to be available in a military-standard qualified environmental package able to survive in battlefield conditions. The good news is that rugged industrial versions of the SBC are available and used in innumerable applications. The next step is to bring the industrial version up to military standards so that it can be sealed, immersed, hosed down, or mounted externally as required. What’s more, the new generation of engineers entering the defense market is already familiar with the platform. These so-called “digital natives” have been exposed to the Raspberry Pi computing platform throughout their education – in some cases as early as elementary school – in STEM courses.

Consider a few examples of how a military-grade Raspberry Pi mission computer can be used in the field: When an older legacy interface, such as a serial port, needs to be modernized to Ethernet, the Raspberry Pi can be placed on the platform as close to the device as needed, providing an interface bridge while reducing cabling. Eventually, when that legacy system is replaced, the Raspberry Pi unit can be repurposed for another application. In another example, consider how many things in the battlefield today are not monitored or equipped with processing power. With Raspberry Pi, intelligence and network connectivity can be easily added to just about anything in the battlefield.

To help realize the vision of readily distributing and integrating MOSA embedded computing just about anywhere a system designer desires, Curtiss-Wright developed the Parvus DuraCOR Pi. (Figure 1.) The ultra-small-form-factor unit is based on the industrial Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 (CM4). It weighs 0.50 pounds and measures 1.20 by 2.49 by 3.34 inches (30.5 by 63.2 by 84.8 mm). With built-in wired Ethernet interface and support for WiFi and Bluetooth (both of which can be disabled), MIL-STD-38999 connectors, a mil-grade power supply, and a sealed IP67 chassis, the unit meets stringent MIL-STD/DO-160 environmental standards. I/O expansion is supported via a standard RPi 40-pin HAT [hardware attached on top] connector, and its flexible expansion ring system enables additional module rings to be stacked on top of the unit housing. The unit is 100% compatible with the Pi Development Ecosystem and runs all software developed for the RPi operating environment, such as NSA STIGd Raspbian Linux, VxWorks, Windows IoT Core, and the like.

[Figure 1 | The Parvus DuraCOR Pi is the first ultra-small-form-factor rugged mission computer to support the Raspberry Pi ecosystem with support for the Hardware Attached on Top (HAT) expansion ecosystem.]

If you only knew of Raspberry Pi as a hobbyist toy platform, the introduction of true military-grade versions will alter your own vision of how SWaP-C computing based on a ubiquitous MOSA platform can drive battlefield IoT.

David Jedynak is chief technology officer and Technical Fellow for Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions.

Curtiss-Wright Defense Solutions

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