Reflections on DDS at Undersea Defense Technology (UDT)

I’m writing this blog tonight whilst traveling home from exhibiting at the Undersea Defense Technology (UDT) conference in Bremen, Germany with my PrismTech colleagues Peter Steele and Gregg Shenton.

It’s always good to catch up with the latest innovations and tech in the naval and subsea industry – and of course the major suppliers were all in attendance.  A lot of interesting things were going on.

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UDT is a particularly appropriate event for PrismTech.  We have many customers in this industry, with DDS (the Data Distribution Service) already being widely applied and often even mandated by the standards bodies and organizations.  Our leading DDS implementation, Vortex OpenSplice has many successful naval deployments and a long history in this market.  Many people will know how its early version was initially designed to address the specific problem of moving data around a complex, real time, combat management system.  The middleware aspect was standardized to form the DDS specification, which of course addresses a lot of those problems – namely delivering time critical data to the applications that need it in an efficient, fault tolerant and scalable manner.

The benefits of DDS, though, are perhaps quite abstract, and for non-software developers probably initially difficult to appreciate.  Because of that, we wanted to provide a visual demonstration at the event that would be interesting for the passer-by yet allow them to relate to what the technology can provide.

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We came up with a mini simulation of a combat system whereby data from the raw environment is captured, processed and delivered to where needed for further analysis.  Our demo used a webcam to capture the raw environment – which in real terms could represent a radar, sonar or video system.  The demo then performed some local analysis, in our case some image processing to track specific colours as they move across the camera.  We had some different colored balls that people were encouraged to wave around (or if brave, juggle) in front of the webcam.  These moving colours were tracked, with their positions published into DDS.  We had another computer which subscribed to that data and presented it to a would-be operator on a mocked-up Blue Force Tracking system, i.e. naval symbols on a sea chart.  We were simulating how position and routes of other vessels and obstacles could be tracked within a networked system in real time.  Of course, DDS is even more valuable when you have to deliver the data to potentially hundreds of machines that might exist within a ship or vessel but there is only so much you can show on a stand!  Still, people appreciated the demo and we had some very interesting discussions.

On reflection, those discussions were generally centred around two key areas.  Firstly, how companies can simplify and optimize their own internal data communication systems.  They usually have some existing solution to deliver data around the network but they are often quite legacy and difficult to extend, enhance or deploy to different scenarios.  DDS is great for that purpose.  Secondly, we spoke about easy integration with other vendors in the naval supply chain.  DDS has strong yet evolvable typing that allows for the clear definition of what data is and represents, while also providing an interoperable wire protocol so applications can automatically discover each other and share data with little integration effort.