SpecOps doles out optical tag contracts

DARPA's DOTS Broad Agency Announcement

The U.S. Special Operations Command announced the awarding of four research and development contracts worth $57.8 million under the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's program for a dynamic optical tags system (DOTS).

The goal is to develop small, thin, long-lived optical retroreflecting tags with a long-range system for activating them and transmitting data. Each of the four companies received the contract's first phase, scheduled to run through March of 2005. Subsequent follow-on contracts can run through September 2007.

Northrop Grumman Corp.'s defensive systems center in Linthicum, Md., received a contract worth about $16 million; Qineti-Q Ltd of Arlington, Va. received about $15.8 million; Innovative Technical Solutions Inc. of Honolulu received a contract worth as much as $13.2 million and Cubic Defense Applications Group of San Diego was awarded about $12.8 million.

Phase one of the contract will last 18 months and focus on the development and demonstration of the optical elements required to support the DOTS objectives. At the end of phase one, the vendors must demonstrate a tag that:

* Is no larger than 25 mm x 25 mm x 25 mm

* Operates in an environment ranging from 70 decrees Celsius to -40 degrees Celsius

* Has external electronics

* Modulates at 100 kilobits per second.

Retroreflecting devices bounce light beams back along the same paths from which they came. Unlike other traditional tags, the DARPA-developed optical units will not rely on radio frequencies but instead use what the research agency describes as automated scanning algorithms.

"Tagging devices are currently being used by various government agencies and branches of the military," according to a DARPA broad agency announcement issued earlier this year. "However, these devices usually depend on radio frequencies that can be detected by the tagged target or by other forces in the area of the emitter."

According the announcement, the optical tags fill a need for reliable covert communications and precision tagging in many situations.

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