Last summer when employees of a Bedford defense contractor were in Oklahoma testing an experimental weapons control program, a soldier spoke of a battlefield dilemma he'd faced in Iraq.
He wanted to launch a rocket toward the enemy but couldn't put down his rifle to work the command keyboard because he was under fire.
Szanca Solutions' program for voice-activated control of systems like rocket launchers could have helped him then, and a $2 million earmark from U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster may ensure the firm can finish its development, so future soldiers won't face a similar dilemma.
The earmark is one of four worth a total of $6 million for local contractors in the recently passed House Defense Appropriations Bill, said Shuster, R-9th District, Thursday.
The earmarks are almost certain to survive intact as the $636 billion bill becomes law, Shuster spokesman Jeff Urbanchuk said.
Money also will go to IS2 Technologies of Altoona for further development of an Air Force logistics tracking program, St. Francis University to develop an online nursing education program for current Army medics and for continued funding of St. Francis' Center of Excellence for Remote & Medically Under-Served Areas.
$2 million: Szanca Solutions of Bedford
$1.6 million: St. Francis University online nursing program
$1.6 million: St. Francis' Center of Excellence for Remote & Medically Under-Served Areas
$800,000: IS2 Technologies of Altoona
Source: U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-9th District
The Senate may act on the bill today, and the earmarks are in its version, Urbanchuk said. President Barack Obama will likely sign the bill.
The spending bill is the funding mechanism for the annual National Defense Authorization Bill passed earlier this year, he said. The authorization proposes programs and the appropriations bill pays for them.
It will pay for Szanca's voice recognition system, based on a standard commercial voice recognition software, because it's more accurate and reliable for controlling weapons like artillery, unmanned aircraft and unmanned ground vehicles, said Bob Beiter, the firm's director of federal services and solutions.
Allowing voice instead of keyboard control can help soldiers in the field, in vehicles or in command posts get things done quicker, more precisely, under more difficult conditions and with less training, Beiter said.
For example, soldiers can launch rockets in the dark, while running for cover or while under fire, like the soldier he encountered in Oklahoma, he said.
Voice-activated controls haven't been done successfully in the military before, he said.
Shuster previously obtained an $800,000 grant for the company to develop and prove the concept. The current grant will cover at least a year's work to bring the voice-activation software into production, Beiter said.
IS2 Technologies is also reconfiguring an existing software program to meet the needs of the Air Force, which is dissatisfied with its patchwork system of computerized maintenance tracking, owner Scott Rhoades said.
The new system would not only be more efficient than the current "segmented and segregated" one, but it would enable the Air Force to recognize safety problems - like a part that's failing repeatedly, he said. Quicker recognition could mean quicker action to prevent a catastrophic accident.
The St. Francis nursing education program will not only help prepare current Army medics deployed around the world for life after the Army but should help cure the national nursing shortage, Urbanchuk said. It will also be a recruiting tool to attract those interested in becoming Army medics, by helping ensure that they won't be nearly - but not quite qualified - to enter the civilian job market when they get out.
The CERMUSA funding will help the program continue research in tele-health, distance learning, tele-rehabilitation and other technologies, Urbanchuk said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.