The expression “plug and play” is the military community’s favored way to evoke interoperability, which is becoming increasingly important with unmanned undersea and air systems. And while achieving this state sounds simple, ensuring that multiple systems have complementary protocols, technologies, and business models is a lengthy process.
When fax machines first came out, both the sending and receiving machine had to be made by the same manufacturer. It wasn’t until standards were created and systems were built to those standards that machines of different manufacturers could finally communicate. The same goes for unmanned systems.
As with fax machines, it’s the market that usually settles on the standard, as the 1970s and ’80s competition between Betamax- and VHS-format videotapes demonstrated. In the terrestrial wired/wireless industry, uniform communication standards such as Ethernet, USB, WiFi, and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) allow subsystem technologies from different vendors to be integrated into a complex system fairly seamlessly.