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Now, the receiver, rechargeable battery and flexible antenna that actually receive the images over digital radio bands weighs two pounds and can be carried in a jacket pouch or vest pocket – an important component for soldiers toting heavy weapons.

Beni says the company hopes to reduce the combined weight to about 1.5 pounds in the near future, making them even easier for troops to handle.

Although they have kept their use of this portable communications system under wraps, the video receivers have been used by Israeli attack helicopter pilots for nearly a year and ground troops on foot and in tanks started using them more recently.

While he believes conveying surveillance data directly to the front line soldiers is important, McCarthy is leery about whether the three-inch screens can relay pictures that will be clear enough for soldiers to make out. 

The surveillance video is often being shot from 1,000 feet in the air and, McCarthy believes, may come out looking “pixilated” on such a small screen. And, he adds, using zoom optics from an unmanned plane to get a closer look might come out “jerky”.

McCarthy’s company also makes a portable video receiver, which has a six-inch screen.  The receivers, battery and antenna together weigh about 2.8 lbs.  The units are part of the Exponent’s own surveillance and communication system, about a dozen of which are being used by U.S. troops in Iraq, according to McCarthy.

No matter the technological limitations that still linger with both video systems, troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are just beginning to use these technologies in combat situations, even though Rabbino says these systems are still largely in the prototype stage.

“Every military of size is experimenting with this kind of thing,” says Rabbino.

Military users, says Beni, are interested in his V-Rambo system, but he declined to say whether the United States was one of those countries. The U.S. Marine Corps had no official comment on whether it has a similar technology already in use, or in the works. 

Other branches of the U.S. Armed Forces are already customers of the company’s military search and rescue technologies. The U.S. Navy has already purchased the company’s emergency location transmitters, which offers transmit the global position of lost soldiers to aid in their recovery, which the U.S. Air Force is also considering, according to a recent company release.

McCarthy says technologies such as these video systems will eventually be deployed throughout the military world. But, they won’t be the magic bullet for combat. Such direct communication systems can have their downsides.

Military forces will need to be careful about managing their bandwidth as more of communications devices are being used in the field. And, more importantly, the use of short-range surveillance craft to relay reconnaissance can sometimes be spotted by enemy troops, letting them know that “they’re being watched by someone fairly close,” says McCarthy,

However, moving the information from a centralized location out to the edges, where action is occurring means that the military will increasingly been in the hands of the men and women in the field.

“That means your front-line troops are infinitely better informed than your generals,” says McCarthy.

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