It started as a way to help air traffic controllers stay focused.
A team from Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business, was building a prototype workstation to simplify what can often be a chaotic cluster of controls, monitors and devices. Using feedback from former air traffic controllers, the team came up with the Multi-platform Automation Re-hosting Solution, or MARS for short.
And then they realized what they built wasn’t just for air traffic controllers.
The system, which uses commercial off-the-shelf monitors and inputs, has what are known as system-agnostic capabilities, meaning it could help operators in industries with similarly complex setups. They include military command and control centers, public safety centers, drone operation areas and security operation centers.
“When we started looking at the design, our focus was on solving an air traffic control problem,” said Doug Peterson, RI&S consultant on MARS. “What we realized is that this system could do so much more and our thinking about the design became much more universal.”
MARS can use multiple host applications and monitors, as well as input devices like keyboards or computer mice. That means users can customize their layout without hassling with architecture changes or long stretches of downtime.
“Any industry using integrated data can benefit from MARS,” said Mitch Herrick, RI&S MARS consultant. “It’s not one-size-fits-all, and MARS is capable of using whatever systems are already in place.”
The team arrived at the revelation that MARS offers wider utility than previously imagined the old-fashioned way: by talking it out.
“We’re sitting in the room with a MARS display, and we realized there is so much empty space on the display,” said Herrick. “We started talking and wondered, ‘What can we put here? How can we use this?’”
They used a whiteboard to capture every idea that came to mind—nothing was off limits or impossible. The first big idea was to incorporate a touch-sensitive screen, to employ intuitive motions from smartphone and tablet applications to minimize retraining.
“The engineers were incredible. We’d have an idea, and often by the end of the day they would have something to show us,” said Peterson.
RI&S is demonstrating MARS’ capabilities to aviation, military and public sector customers at industry events, and upon request.
“Through the process of developing this workstation, we realized there were so many other uses for MARS and the utility of it far surpassed anything that was restricted to just air traffic,” said Herrick. “Everything we did helped to create the next idea, the next capability.”
MARS’ open architecture can reduce system variances and streamline the acquisition and maintenance process of equipment.
“In 32 years as an air traffic controller, it was the single most gratifying thing I have ever done professionally, to think this way outside the box and see what it became,” said Herrick. “I thought, ‘This is what the future looks like.’”