Engineer Ensures Robotic Controller's Success

SAN DIEGO – Unmanned vehicles, known as UxVs, deliver enhanced information dominance capabilities to the fleet, increasing the utility of robotic systems employed in military operations.

Such military operations can range from combat to disaster-relief missions, which create the requirement for robotic command-and-control systems with mission-specific functionality that display mission-specific information to the operator.

Guided by Gary Gilbreath, chief software engineer for unmanned systems here at the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific -- SSC Pacific for short -- has developed an unmanned vehicle/sensor operator-control interface that can simultaneously handle multiple sets of disparate remote systems.

Development of the Multi-robot Operator Control Unit, which enables command and control of a wide range of vehicles and payloads under varying mission scenarios, began in 2001.

It’s the first “common controller” for SSC Pacific’s broad family of developmental UxV systems, including land, air, sea and undersea vehicles and sensors.

“Gilbreath has been a driving force in the success of MOCU from development to deployment,” said Bart Everett, technical director for unmanned systems. “In fact, beginning in 1987, he was one of the first Unmanned Systems Branch employees to develop software for an operator command and control interface, using a surrogate unmanned ground vehicle.”

Government-owned, MOCU has a modular, scalable, and flexible architecture. Modularity allows for a breadth of functionality, such as communicating in unrelated protocols. Scalability allows MOCU to be installed on a wide range of hardware. While, flexibility allows MOCU users to define what information is displayed and determine what control is needed for each system.

One key advantage of MOCU is that the user interface can be easily reconfigured as needed by editing XML configuration files, without the need to recompile.

Under Gilbreath’s direction, MOCU was ported to more than 30 government programs by 2005, and to an additional 26 outside users by 2010.

Additionally, MOCU was selected for use on the Navy's littoral combat ship mission modules and the Advanced Explosive Ordnance Disposal Robotic System. More recently, it was selected by the Marine Corps/Army Robotic Systems Joint Program Office for joint UxV acquisition programs.

With this rapid adoption of MOCU by industry and other government agencies, the title of chief software engineer for unmanned systems was created to oversee, coordinate, and manage all internal and external development and implementation activities.

“As our chief software engineer, Gilbreath has provided technical direction, coordination, and management of the growth of MOCU software across [the Defense Department] and throughout industry and academia,” Everett said.

Having worked in the area of unmanned systems for more than 26 years, Gilbreath is nationally recognized as a subject-matter expert in UxV C2. He has provided high-level architecture design for UxV C2 software, guiding multiple stakeholders, including the Naval Sea Systems Command, Naval Air Systems Command, Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Army, the Marine Corps and industry.

“Our goal is to provide the most adaptable, extensible, and appropriate technology solution to the sponsors and users, thereby ensuring SPAWAR remains at the forefront of UxV C2 in all operational domains and across the globe,” Gilbreath said.

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