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$1.3 Million Contract Awarded for Fuel-Cell Driven, Tablet PC

General Dynamics C4 Systems has won an Air Force contract to develop 10 prototype tablet computers powered by direct liquid fuel cells that could be used by special operations forces to set up portable air traffic control computers.

The General Dynamics unit is functioning as a systems integrator in the contract to meld different features into prototype systems. "This could have long-term commercial opportunities," said Chris Marzilli, a senior vice president and deputy general manager. The $1.3 million contract was announced Monday.

The U. S. military has been placing greater emphasis on using technologies and products that are commercially available and then integrating and developing them for military usage, Marzilli said. The systems developed for the military may then travel full circle and become commercial-available systems.

A key component of the portable system is the fuel cell technology developed by Medis Technologies. Marzilli said the fuel cell liquid can be injected into a cartridge that can be snapped into the system. He said the system's requirements call for its components to be rugged, easy-to-use, reliable, and small. He added that the fuel cell reservoirs being developed can vary in size, although they typically are likely to be the size of a computer mouse.

Medis Technologies, a participant in the project, has indicated that in a few quarters it could have a commercially available fuel cell product similar to the one being used by General Dynamics in the project. Medis has already successfully demonstrated liquid fuel cell systems that operate portable electronic devices.

The plan for the portable fuel-cell based system is for it to be tested at the Air Force Research Lab at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

"This science and technology initiative will equip the U. S. Air Force with an enhanced Battlefield Air Operations kit," Marzilli said. "The prototype also could have implications for multiple Department of Defense instruments and applications, including, among other candidate products, powering the Joint Tactical Radio System (JTRS) Cluster 5 family of handheld and embedded software-defined radios." Radios tend to drain great amounts of energy from fuel cells and batteries, he said.

General Dynamics could have a product utilizing features from the system in a year and a half, he said. The project could also lead to improvements to additional portable devices including night vision goggles, he said.

Another participant in the project is Itronix, which will deliver 10 prototype GoBook tablet computers. Itronix is a developer of wireless, rugged field computing systems ranging from handheld devices to tablet PCs.

General Dynamics C4 Systems is serving as a subcontractor to SRA International on the project.

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