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New Hybrid Storage Technology Could Have Mission-Critical Applications

Robots have been employed by the military to assist in missions where it would be, and has been, too dangerous to have a human being take on the task. These robots can detect and disable bombs. Some can be thrown into rooms where they land on their “feet”, and scan the room for counter-insurgents. Others blow up mine fields, to ensure safe travel of ground vehicles and the personnel they carry.

A small robot puts space between the ground troops and IEDs. (Photo: U.S. Army)
Ground vehicles have benefited from technology advancements as well. Some MRAP vehicles hold several satellite dishes that relay data from their location. MRAP vechicles are being equipped with multi-band radio systems that can relay sensitvie data via tactical satellites from their location. They can track movement and sense projectiles being launched from many angles.

Manufacturers and designers have made significant strides over the last decade; one can only imagine what warfare will look like in the next ten years.

Military Electronics

Figure 1. iSLC Increased demands on endurance.
The military electronics industry is going through drastic change as defense budget cuts create a need for military compliant storage solutions that are cost-effective without sacrificing performance or the reliability required for mission-critical military applications.

Traditional hard drives may have their advantages (cost and capacity), but they are lacking in performance (65- 85MB/sec) and flexibility of size, they generate more heat (up to 10W), and they are not equipped to withstand shock and vibration. Advances in alternate technologies can have a significant impact on the abilities of a robot or vehicle.

NAND Flash Overview

Designers of automatons, ground vehicles, and UAV’s are turning to flash storage devices to store data and run onboard systems.

Figure 2. iSCL firmware technology empowers MLC.
Flash storage devices contain various grades of NAND (negated AND) flash architectures, or cells that are used to store an electronic charge . The quality of the NAND flash can affect the speed and number of performance/endurance cycles the drive has in its lifetime. The benefits to using flash storage are its size (multiple form factors), speed, reliability, vibration and shock tolerance, and low power consumption (less than 1W).

For mission-critical applications, the United States military has been partial to devices that contain SLC NAND flash, or single-level cell flash architecture. SLC flash technology stores one bit of data in a single cell, in two states: 0 or 1. It is widely known as the most reliable architecture, with 100,000 P/E cycles. Additionally, SLC-based flash generates fewer errors per write cycle, allowing it to bypass the robust degree of error correction required for MLC. The downside is that the price-tag for products with SLC NAND flash is significant enough to put a dent in anyone’s budget.

For years, the cheaper alternative was to use MLC flash-based products. MLC NAND flash, or multi-level cell flash architecture, stores two bits of data in a single cell, in four states. These four states are as follows: 00, 01, 10, and 11. This allows for higher capacities at a lower price point, but it is not a preferred solution for applications where failure is not an option. MLC flash requires a more robust ECC engine as MLC-based flash generates many more errors per write cycle.