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SDG SystemsOpen Source Operating Systems

Todd Blumer, President of SDG Systems, believes that Linux in hand-held and wearable computing devices offer key advantages to military and other users

The Linux-based TDS Nomad is being used in Future Warrior Technology Integration (FWTI) programme. © TDS
The Linux-based TDS Nomad is being used in Future Warrior Technology Integration (FWTI) programme. © TDS

SDG Systems provides platforms on which others build their applications. These applications may be developed by a military unit itself, or, more frequently, developed by a prime contractor who requires a mobile platform on which to run their application. A feature of SDG’s approach is to provide custom Linux development and support services to assist partners in getting their application to deployment more quickly.

The selection of open source solutions by the military has been a growing feature of trials of rugged computing devices for the dismounted solider explained Todd Blumer, President of SDG Systems, “We are finding that the choice of Open versus Proprietary Operating System depends greatly on the application. Sometimes a need can be met with a COTS application running on Windows Mobile. In many other cases, however, we find that other factors play a key role in the selection of an open environment like Linux. We provide a good deal more flexibility in our Linux offering. For example, a military group may want the device to boot with no backlight and no audio and no wireless radios enabled.”

“With Linux, we can easily accommodate those requests. We can also remove distractions from the environment - like games - and even boot the device directly into the user’s application, effectively creating a single-purpose computer. Security is emphasized in Linux. We understand that security is important to our customers. We therefore install the iptables firewall mechanism by default on all our Linux handheld computers.”


Blumer explained, “The Linux-based TDS Nomad was released last quarter. We are now actively working on a number of opportunities that include situational awareness and communication. We have customers who are utilising the GPS capability and using the Nomad to interface to other equipment, like field radios and digital cameras. The Linux-based TDS Nomad is being used in Future Warrior Technology Integration (FWTI) programme.”

SDG have a strategic relationship with TDS, who supplies rugged PDAs as hosts for SDG’s software. This relationship allows them to influence the evolution of hardware design. Blumer said, “We heavily requested and TDS implemented a high resolution screen on the Nomad with full VGA resolution, along with the Nomad’s USB hosting capability, allowing USB devices to connect directly to the Nomad.”

The Linux-based TDS Nomad rugged mobile hand-held computer offers a high level of device integration including Bluetooth, 802.11, GPS, Camera, Barcode scanning and USB host and client ports. All Nomads also include a highresolution screen (480x640 portrait VGA) and a 806 MHz PXA 320 processor. The USB host port has been tested to support mass storage, keyboard, mouse, Ethernet and RS- 232 serial adapters. Like the field-proven Linux-based TDS Recon, the Nomad meets the MIL-STD-810F standard for drops, vibration and temperature extremes. It also has an IP67 rating, meaning it is dustproof and waterproof. Battery testing yielded over 12 hours of operation with Bluetooth and 802.11 both enabled and with the screen backlight at 50 percent brightness. Maximum battery life is approximately 25 hours.

"The Nomad and Recon devices both have a one year warranty with optional extended warranties. We provide technical and developer support. The level of support varies based on contract." © TDS
"The Nomad and Recon devices both have a one year warranty with optional extended warranties. We provide technical and developer support. The level of support varies based on contract." © TDS

In parallel, SDG Systems also announced software enhancements to their Linux implementation. “With the latest software release, we are providing a general mechanism for users to run their own application exclusively, effectively creating a way to build singlepurpose devices rather than a general purpose PDA,” explained Todd Blumer, President of SDG Systems. “This mechanism allows our Enterprise customers to write a Qt for Embedded Linux application, for example, with a standard software build from us. The customer can reduce their support burden by training users on the application and not the PDA interface.”

The Linux-based Nomad utilizes version 2.6.21 of the Linux kernel. The standard user interface is based on Qtopia PDA Edition, version 2.2, which SDG Systems has enhanced to manage the integrated devices. The operating system utilities are based on the Ångström Linux distribution. A GPE (X11, GTK+, Qt4) user interface option is in development and is available for beta testing. Qtopia 4 support is planned. In addition to the hardware products, SDG Systems provides Linux development support and services.

“We are also open to doing Linux implementations on other platforms,” explained Blumer. “Should we find a customer who needs such services, our model has been that we will do a Linux implementation for a customer and subsequently resell the hardware. We have already done Linux ports for other device manufacturers.”


To support future developments SDG Systems have established partnerships with customers and prime contractors, several of which relate to soldier modernisation efforts and programmes both within government and industry.

“Several opportunities are in the early stages,” explained Blumer. “We are providing hardware and support to Lockheed Martin ATL for their DisOPS situational awareness application. We also have partnerships with commercial companies who have expertise in mapping and imaging.”

Work on DisOPs has been working directly with LM ATL. Blumer said, “Lockheed Martin is actively marketing the application. We have created customised device images (software installations) for them and undertaken custom Linux kernel work specifically for them and for their needs.

Approximately 50 TDS/SDG systems were acquired for FFW ordered both directly to the US Army and via industrial subcontracts over 2006-7. Participation in the wider US soldier modernisation effort has also begun, including Land Warrior. Blumer said, “We have been interacting directly with the engineers at Fort Monmouth and assisting them with their development, providing technical support for the work that they have been doing.” Blumer continued, “With respect to our services, we have software and computer engineers with extensive experience with Linux systems and interfacing to different hardware platforms and devices. The engineers also have expertise in computer communications. The Nomad and Recon devices both have a one year warranty with optional extended warranties. We provide technical and developer support. The level of support varies based on contract.”


SDG’s primary R&D push is with the Linux operating system undertaking development on a basis that is completely independent from TDS. The direction this has taken having been heavily reliant of feedback from customers. Blumer said, “We are heavily influenced by the direct communication of needs from the customer. We are agile; we are able to respond quickly and tactically to customer needs without having to invest considerable resources into perceived needs which may not actually be impacting our customers. We feel that our agility, combined with the community support of an active, open source environment provides an excellent hybrid of constant improvement.”

“We believe strongly in having our employees interact with customers,” outlined Blumer. “In this way, we have a good feel for what features are useful and what are not. For example, through interaction with one of our customers, we implemented a ‘zeroisation’ feature in the Linux kernel for the Nomad. By pressing a certain sequence of key strokes, the device will completely erase itself, except for the boot loader - so the software can be reloaded if the hardware is recovered.”

Blumer said, “We are targeting ease of use and ease of access to all of the features of the device. One of the things we have published is a document on how to interact with the hardware that the Nomad provides. For example, how do I interact with the GPS capability? How do I interact with the camera? We have provided technical information to the developers on how they can interact with each hardware component within the device. We focus on ease of use, usability and an openness of access to everything that the device provides.”

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