Recently I had the opportunity to meet with Steve Durante, CEO and Rodney Danielson, VP of Engineering at OuterLink to discuss their adoption of Windows 7, Bing Maps and Silverlight 3.
OuterLink is a very cool company based in Lowell, MA that builds high value asset tracking and communication technology. Now if you are like me your first question is what is high value asset tracking? Imagine you own a fleet of helicopters that are used to transfer patients from accident scenes to hospitals in an urban setting. OuterLink creates the technology that allows you to track the location of your fleet in real-time on an interactive map and communicate with the pilot in situations where traditional communication is not available. Their solution is used in life and death situations so speed and reliability are critical to their success.
OuterLink provides a combination hardware/software solution. The OuterLink hardware units are installed into the customer’s fleet of vehicles. The hardware units, running Windows CE 5.0, provide the satellite link, voice message transfer from cockpit to console, text to voice communication from the console operator, longitude/latitude data and up to 8 other vehicle sensors such as weight, accelerometer, speed, elevation and so on.
On the other end of the solution is the console operator. These folks are typically sitting in front of several monitors tracking many high value assets in various locations. The console application provides a Silverlight In-Browser or Out-of-Browser user interface running on Windows 7 to take advantage of touch gestures and features the Silverlight Bing Map control with weather and fleet location vector graphic overlays, operator to pilot to communication, vehicle sensor status and many other telecommunications and reporting features.
Communication between the aircraft and the console is handled by a secure network link between the console and the Outline Data Center and a satellite link up between the OuterLink datacenter and the aircraft. Messages are put into an XML format and passed over a sockets API from Silverlight to the OuterLink communications service and from the datacenter to the Aircraft over a proprietary satellite link-up.
Why did OuterLink choose Silverlight?
· Moving to Silverlight allowed OuterLink to migrate their customers from requiring a complex on-site server infrastructure to simply accessing the solution through their browser directly from the OuterLink
· The user experience needed to be more like a video game, i.e. high quality vector graphics and speed of access to functionality. OuterLink used Xbox games as a model for their user interface design.
· The map is an integral part of the Outer link console application and so they chose Bing Maps as the quality of the map technology was superior to Google maps. Also because the Bing team provides a Silverlight map control which was easy to integrate into the their Silverlight project
· Bing maps provide the ability to easily overlay vector graphics. OuterLink overlays fleet location with sensor data displayed on hover events as well as detailed weather data drawn as polygons from shape data provided by a weather service
· Visual Studio and Expression Blend provided a true rapid development solution. This was proven out when a prospective customer needed one additional feature to close the sale and the development team was able to add that feature, test it and deploy it in under 2 hours. Needless to say, they made the sale. This gives the OuterLink team complete control over release cycle of the solution where technology is no longer the gating factor of when a new version is released.
· Sockets was chosen for its speed and the ability for the OuterLink team to reuse code from a previous versions server side technology
· Sockets adoption in Silverlight is straightforward as it is an integral part of the Silverlight networking stack
Why Windows 7?
· Console operators sit in front of multiple monitors (5 to 6) and need to react quickly to changing state (weather, may-day alerts, pilot communications) from multiple high value assets
· Touch is a key feature for the operators in that it frees them up from having to move between multiple keyboards and mice
· Windows 7 Touch gives OuterLink a competitive advantage
· Customers want to be on the cutting edge of technology because safety is a number one priority. Windows 7 and Touch allows these operators to be more efficient and react faster to aircraft alerts
OuterLink serves a very demanding aviation market where dispatch reliability and full system support is not only critical to the customers’ business but in many cases critical to saving lives and protecting our country. OuterLink chose the Microsoft Platform for their solution because it allows them to bring leading edge, fast, secure, reliable, rich innovative solutions to their customers faster than their competition. Their customers require it and OuterLink delivers.