Squishy Robotics COO Dr. Deniz Dogruer said that she and fellow engineers were grateful for the opportunity to perform tests during several days at Camp Roberts. “The testing location presented a unique opportunity to conduct some communications tests that, thus far, had been difficult to conduct.”
Dogruer, along with Lead Mechatronics Engineer Douglas Hutchings and Software Engineer Adam Goldstein, traveled to Camp Roberts, a California National Guard Base near Paso Robles in Southern California in late October. The reason for the journey was to participate in a multi-day Joint Interagency Field Experimentation (JIFX) event.
Small businesses and academic researchers can apply to attend JIFX, which is sponsored and organized by the Naval Postgraduate School. The JIFX program provides an opportunity for Navy, Department of Defense (DoD), Special Operations Forces (SOF), and National Guard personnel to evaluate new technologies related to defense operations. These technology testing and experimentation events, which are meant to foster collaboration and DoD stakeholder engagement, happen approximately four times a year.
“The testing location and the JIFX program provided our company with admittance to unique test environments and uncommon access to military users,” Dogruer explained. “In particular, the program provided an introduction to DoD stakeholders and enabled us to collect their extremely valuable feedback about our products and their use cases.”
Camp Roberts offered two unique testing locations: the McMillian Airfield and a Combined Arms Collective Training Facility (CACTF).
McMillan Airfield, often a site used for fixed-wing and multi-rotor small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) testing and training, is a private runway that is approximately 3,500 feet long and is surrounded by relatively empty terrain. This location meant that Squishy Robotics engineers could conduct a range test without obstructions (thousands of feet to miles) due to the site’s generally flat terrain and low, rolling hills.
At the CACTF site, the cityscape consists of many cinder block buildings and a tunnel facility. While Squishy Robotics has tested in similar locations before, it was useful and more convenient to gain access to such a site in the company’s home state of California. Tests at the CACTF focused on using a drone as a communications repeater for the 4-GasPLUS sensor robots. Tests showed that this drone-as-repeater capability radically improved communications ranges and reduced the number of repeaters required to establish connectivity in all areas of the complex urban terrain.
Hutchings explained why this specific test could not be run during the July testing at the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service (TEEX). “Unfortunately, the TEEX site immediately adjoins a public airport, placing extreme restrictions on the types of drone flights that are permissible. At JIFX, the Naval Reservists Aviators were extremely accommodating in helping us make the best use of Camp Roberts’ unique airspace availability while still following all FAA regulations and safety procedures.”
“With our testing at the CACTF Airfield, we had an unobstructed visual line of sight and could fly our drone at altitudes of 1000 feet and higher, at a distance of almost a mile,” Hutchings continued. “We are already busy documenting how to configure this drone-as-repeater capability and how to improve mesh networking communications ranges. Our plan is to feature such information in our new Best Practices Guide documentation.”