AFRL Technology Employed by U.S. Coast Guard to Rescue Stranded Ice Fishermen

MARBLEHEAD, OH – The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) used the Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK), a technology develop by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL), to rescue stranded ice fishermen from Lake Erie in northern Ohio.

According to the Associated Press, rescuers arrived on scene after a large block of ice separated from the shore off Catawba Island. Armed with the AFRL technology, the USCG and local emergency personnel safely returned all 46 people to land.

ATAK is a tool that supports situational awareness, communication and information sharing. Developed by AFRL scientists and engineers in 2010, Special Operations forces and warfighters now employ the technology in real-world combat zones. Local, state and federal agencies have also adapted ATAK to fulfill their needs and mission requirements.

The software provides rescue personnel and civilians with invaluable, real-time mobile capabilities such as live video feeds, personnel tracking, image sharing, site surveys, augmented reality, geospatial mapping, navigation and chat. ATAK users or “operators” range from volunteers to military personnel and law enforcement.

The combat version of the technology, the Android Tactical Assault Kit, supports tactical information feeds, various analytics and visualizations. For non-military operations including law enforcement, event security, forest fires and hurricane rescue efforts, AFRL licenses a civilian version to industry and local governments.

“Situational awareness is a game-changer that can exponentially improve a team’s probability of success in combat and emergency situations,” says Ralph Kohler, the AFRL Principal Engineer for ATAK.

This technology has been “incredibly useful for a broad range of users across DOD [Department of Defense], DOJ [Department of Justice], commercial industry and others.”

ATAK has also supported natural disaster rescue efforts, including those following Hurricane Florence, which paralyzed parts of the East Coast in 2018.

The technology, which enables users to view the location of potential hazards and other operators, presents a major advantage to relying solely on hand-held radio transmissions for communications and awareness.

When the software is downloaded to a phone, tablet or handheld device, users can access up-to-the-second situational awareness that becomes critical in high-stress, hazardous environments. ATAK output can be projected onto a large screen or attached to an operator’s forearm, thigh or chest for hands-free use. This functionality supports collaboration across agencies and enables joint-mission teams to cross-communicate with one another.

Kohler says that AFRL’s goal was to develop “one application that other people could build upon, [basically] a standard extensible platform that provides the basics for everybody, and the customizability that everyone needs.”

“This extensible platform allows various customers with unique needs to customize the application with specific plugins,” he explains.

To support disaster relief efforts, AFRL regularly teams-up with agencies such as FEMA, the National Guard, Customs and Border Patrol, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the DoD.

ATAK is currently in use by more than 40,000 DoD, DHS and military users; 32,000 nonfederal users and 100 commercial licensees.