Ted Simons: "Horizon's" continuing look at technology and innovation issues focuses tonight at a local company playing a big part in the development of remote controlled unmanned military aircraft. Here to tell us more is Doug Limbaugh, CEO of Phoenix-based Kutta Technologies. Good to have you here.
Doug Limbaugh: Great to be here.
Ted Simons: What are we talking about here? A new technology for troops in the field to control drones?
Doug Limbaugh: Exactly. One of the newer technologies that the military is coming out and will be out in the next four to five years is called unmanned resupply. And so basically what that does is turned basic helicopters within the army, within the military, and unmanned resupply ships so they can take the blood, bullets, and beans out to soldiers that need them in the mountainous areas instead of sending a convoy and subject them to IEDs.
Ted Simons: And soldiers in the field with this equipment can guide these drones up, down, sideways, the whole nine yards?
Doug Limbaugh: Exactly. We have a handheld system, a wrist mounted system, and another system I don't have here today, but basically they use this like a video game, and as the aircraft gets within their radio range they take control and tell it where to land, where to drop off supplies and so forth.
Ted Simons: Let's take a look at this now. This is a CPU, correct?
Doug Limbaugh: This is a display system, and the CPU is in the backpack of the computer. That's connected to the transmitter that communicates with the air vehicles.
Ted Simons: That's a display system and this looks to be, what, this is a --
Doug Limbaugh: A wrist worn unmanned vehicle controller.
Ted Simons: On the wrist.
Doug Limbaugh: It's just a point and click operation in order to fly the aircraft, in order to control the payload or the camera that's on board, you can zoom in, zoom out, just like you do with a video on your telephone today.
Ted Simons: And the whole package in this shot shows the whole package with the backpack, you've got the monitor, the whole kit and kaboodle there.
Doug Limbaugh: We think with our new innovations are going to change the way the army uses UAVs, and they've actually said that. With our technology it really changes the way soldiers have to train to use our UAVs. We've simplified the process of learning how to fly a UAV from weeks of training down to a few hours.
Ted Simons: As far as what the screen shows, what the image shows, I think we have a shot of that as well, it looks like a video game.
Doug Limbaugh: Yeah. Exactly. A lot of people look at our display and our user interface and say it's like an iphone and it also has Google earth so you can see the earth in 3D, you can see the relative position of the airplanes, the mountains, terrain. And you just work it just like a video game, if you will.
Ted Simons: Now, you brought on set here the same material, how much does this stuff weigh, logistically is this the kind of thing you can take for long trips? Talks to us about the specs here as far as the range involved.
Doug Limbaugh: The range typically with this -- I can't get into all the specifics on the range, but about 10 miles or so. You can reach out and with some different configurations you can get out a little farther in order to control the unmanned system. With this device here, we're aiming more for a common controller within the army. So not -- from a logistic standpoint you don't have to have a whole bunch of equipment, you can carry this one handheld with a backpack and control the unmanned aerial vehicles with cameras, control the air ships for resupply and control ground robots in the field with just one system.
Ted Simons: We just saw the backpack there and we saw on top of the backpack, is that the monitor?
Doug Limbaugh: This is exactly what you can see here, the video streaming in from the UAV's camera. The video from the UAV camera is here, and you can hold that in your hands, you can tell it's very lightweight. And basically you can blow that up so you can actually see it in a bigger screen. You can just touch on the screen to move the camera around. You can change the zoom level to zoom in really tight to possibly read a license plate on a vehicle.
Ted Simons: I can tell you this, is not heavy stuff. This is the kind of thing soldiers in the field should be well equipped to carry.
Doug Limbaugh: Our whole backpack system weighs 15 pounds when you add everything up, including the batteries. And it has a life span basically operating under batteries of about seven to eight hours.
Ted Simons: How did you get started in this?
Doug Limbaugh: Through the government what they called the small business innovative research program, the government puts out specific proposals, specifically the DOD of problems they would like to solve. And they allocate 2.3% of their R&D budget to small companies for these innovative solutions. So it allows you to come up -- if you come up with an innovative solution that gets recognized and you get funded to build it for the military.
Ted Simons: There was a fast track grant and then there was the SBiR grant?
Doug Limbaugh: Correct. What we did with the fast grant way back in 2003, and this project actually is when it got started in 2003, we got a $5,000 Arizona fast grant to hire a writing consultant to help us. We hired Randall Grimes, he taught us how to write the proposals, and from then on we've been very successful, and I recently testified to Congress on behalf of the program.
Ted Simons: Very quickly, what's next?
Doug Limbaugh: Our underground radio systems we're developing for coal miners, and first responders so they can communicate in underground tunnel and subways and specifically in coal mines.
Ted Simons: So if the innovation is there, you can find some work here, can't you?
Doug Limbaugh: Exactly. You just got to work hard and propose innovative ideas and they do get recognize and funded by the military.
Ted Simons: Congratulations. Thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
Doug Limbaugh: Thank you. It was great to be here.