The soldiers patrolling Paris and its suburbs in the Sentinelle operation together with their commanding officers have a new, extremely lightweight (900g) and intuitive communications tool : Auxylium. The smart phone/radio, which automatically and securely tunes in to whichever of the defence or civilian networks is strongest where the user is, was developed by two lieutenants at France’s St Cyr army officers’ training college. It took less than six months from the launch of the urgent operational requirement last December to first deployment of the 1,000 kits on 9 June in time for the UEFA European football championship.
The system consists of an ordinary smartphone of the Samsung, Sony, Huawei…type, a Helium radio, and earpieces. The Helium radio is manufactured by Atos, under licence from the DGA French procurement agency, and Atos also secures the smartphones. The earpices are supplied by Danish company Invisio.
Captain Jean-Baptiste Colas was one of the two lieutenants. At a meeting in Paris organised this morning by the DGA Lab, Colas outlined the lessons learned in the past four months of Auxylium’s deployment.
The four positive aspects are that the troops have massively appropriated their new communication tool. The applications available are reliable and the system switches seamlessly from civilian to military networks tuning into whichever is strongest automatically. Lastly there have been no security issues linked to the BYOD (bring your own device) risk, in other words, nothing has appeared on social media that shouldn’t be there!
The four negative aspects are that in some metro lines and other underground areas the connectivity is not good but that work is underway to give Helium a device to device mode; that smartphone breakages are higher than anticipated; that troops need a minimum of four hours training to be able to use the system at full capacity instead of the 90 minutes originally planned for, and that the app store can’t meet all needs.
Auxylium allows troops and their commanders to real-time geo-track each other, to talk to one another in audio and video, to exchange contacts, to share their positions, to access digital maps, to send messages with photos which are geo-referenced, to take high definition photos and videos and to share heavy files (+100Mo). The system also includes the user’s medical file in case of a medical emergency. Updates are automatically downloaded. All of this is of course encrypted, even when using the civilian mobile phone network, and secured so that if the soldier should lose the smartphone the finder or thief will be unable to use or consult it.
Colas developed Auxylium when he was a sergeant and frustrated that the communications tools at his disposal weighed too much and were inefficient. He began working seriously on his ideas for improving them with his final project at the French joint military school (EMIA) and with it won the army’s 2014 Audacity Prize. This gave him the necessary visibility to accelerate the development of his innovation and try it out in operational conditions.
Today he is at the head of a team of about 10 people and is the programme officer for the project as well as being an innovation advisor to the DGA and doing part-time technology studies at the prestigious Ecole Centrale engineering university.