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DARPA at the Tactical Edge: TIGR & RAA

Maeda was thinking along the same lines as Michaelis. In 2005, the latter had returned from Iraq. He was promptly invited to speak to DARPA about CAVNET. Upon meeting, the pair began to brainstorm.

“She pulled me aside and said, ‘If you could create something for your next deployment, what would it look like?,’” Michaelis remembered. His response was a combination of CPOF, CAVNET, and Sharepoint, the web-based collaborative framework, oriented to lower-level units.

“It would be a virtual notebook of information and events so that soldiers on patrol could do their own mission planning and debriefs,” Michaelis said.

“There was an ‘Aha!’ moment when we realized we could create a map-based application that could disseminate this information,” Maeda recalled.

To do so at the “speed of DARPA,” she asked Joseph Evans, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at the University of Kansas, to help assemble a small team to bring to life what would become known as the Tactical Ground Reporting (TIGR) system.

The other main TIGR selling point Swink emphasized was giving small units the ability to access and update maps, and use them in planning patrols. Intelligence officers at brigade level and above already had the capability, but those going outside the wire did not.

By dint of their previous work together at the National Science Foundation, Maeda knew that Evans had a background in online games. Young soldiers, she realized, understood video games intuitively. Maeda wanted TIGR to have that kind of instantly comprehensible user interface (UI).

“Even before TIGR got started, we had chatted about various ideas about collecting information for the warfighter,” Evans said.

To develop TIGR into a web-based, visually arresting information-sharing application, Evans reassembled the team with which he’d developed online games, including software developers Steve Pennington, Benjamin Ewy, and Mike Swink. Borrowing ideas from CAVNET, CPOF, and other command and control (C2) applications, they put together a demo for DARPA in three weeks.

“The demo basically looked like the initial TIGR system would look,” Evans said with amusement. “It was just that if you clicked on anything that wasn’t exactly where we pointed, it would crash.”

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Eric Tegler is a writer/broadcaster from Severna Park, Md. His work appears in a variety...