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updated 11/15/2010 11:50:01 AM ET 2010-11-15T16:50:01

Unattended ground sensors, better known as UGS, have been around for years, but a next generation of UGS, which can detect anything from vibrations from a tank, a truck, even a person's foot falls, will be networked to send and receive information as easily as civilians send texts and pictures.

"This new generation of UGS offers a seamless, secure and mobile communication capability that we simply don't have today," said Paul Mehney of the U.S. Army.

Today and tomorrow's UGS come in two styles, tactical and urban and but both share several characteristics. They are small and portable and can detect several kinds of information, including acoustic, seismic, passive infrared, electro-optical imaging, infrared imaging and even nuclear, said David Scaringella, senior program manager at Textron Defense Systems, which manufactures UGS.

UGS, which transmit information with seismic signals, have been used on the battlefield for years, said Mehney. What is new about this next generation of UGS is that they are networked.

Today's versions are associated with a particular group of soldiers. If those soldiers want to share information with another group of soldiers it is not particularly easy -- there are no cell towers set across Afghanistan to pass data back and forth. Instead, a soldier has to radio someone else and verbally describe, say, the picture the UGS took.

The new generation of UGS allows soldiers to pass the image or other information directly to commanders and other soldiers, like a civilian's cell phone.

"With a cell phone you can take pictures, take video, and send a text. If you've got an iPhone its even smarter," said Mehney. "The military doesn't' have that type of capability because it operates in a very complex environment that isn't networked like cell towers are."

Say two companies of soldiers, separated by one mountain range, are looking for one man. One UGS takes a picture and sends it to one group of soldiers on one side of the mountain. Those soldiers can now send that image across the range to alert the other company to what is happening.

That's exactly what happened in September, when the US Army field tested the new UGS at Fort Bliss, a mountainous army base straddling Texas and New Mexico with terrain reminiscent of Afghanistan. Two companies of soldiers, separated by about 18 miles of mountains, passed information back and forth.

About one more year of testing remains before the UGS could be sent to Afghanistan, said Mehney.

© 2012 Discovery Channel

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