Unmanned Aircraft Soars to New Heights with PTC Integrity™ Lifecycle Manager

Unmanned Aircraft Soars to New Heights with PTC Integrity™ Lifecycle Manager

Demand for Insitu unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) is soaring due to their portability, small size and customizability. This explosive growth requires a tool that can manage all engineering artifacts in a single integrated solution, while addressing compliance requirements of military and government contracts.

In 2006, Insitu selected PTC Integrity Lifecycle Manager in order to achieve CMMI Level III compliance in a very short timeframe without additional headcount or impacting current business. Shortly after implementation, Insitu was awarded a DoD contract.

Today, in 2015, Insitu continues to rely on PTC Integrity Lifecycle Manager to provide end-to-end visibility and traceability across all the company’s software development projects –from sophisticated ground control software to the embedded software that propels the company’s air vehicles. As the company has evolved its product line, platform approach and software development process, it continues to ascend new heights with the help of its flexible and robust ALM solution.

Company Overview

Specializing in the design, development, production, and operation of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) objectives, Insitu, Inc., is a global leader in the UAS industry. Insitu’s family of autonomous UAS solutions has logged more than hundreds of thousands of combat flight hours by land and sea. The impressive field performance and innovative design of these customizable, low-cost systems has contributed to accelerating product demand and dramatic growth for the organization. These small, robotic, pilotless aircraft are used in a wide range of military and aerospace applications in both government and commercial markets. With 800 employees, Insitu Inc. is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company.

Insitu has two primary product lines: (1) the ScanEagle® and (2) the Integrator™ (slightly larger), both with unique characteristics that differentiate them from other ISR products and enable a broad range of potential applications. The small footprint and portability allows the aircraft to be launched and recovered without a runway — making it an ideal solution for launch from a ship. In addition, Insitu aircraft can fly for up to 20+ hours. This endurance and easy set-up lends itself to tactical field-based military missions where there is an immediate need to “see what’s over the horizon.”

Executive Summary

In 2004 Insitu was awarded a contract with the Marines to provide surveillance video for convoy and base protection for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2006, Insitu responded to a government inquiry for a solution that required the vendor to meet CMMI Level III compliance, a daunting task for a small company. Insitu also needed a tool that would enable them to achieve CMMI Level III compliance without doubling staff or affecting existing development schedules. This led them to a trade study of application lifecycle management (ALM) tools.

The original goal of the evaluation was to identify a solution that would allow them to meet CMMI Level III compliance in 9 months, enabling Insitu to respond to the current inquiry as well as future contracts. As they progressed through the evaluation process, Insitu discovered that many vendors offered a piece of the solution such as requirements management or test management, but what they really wanted was an “all-in-one” solution — a single tool that could record and manage all the artifacts. After an evaluation of 16 vendors, pared down to a more detailed study of four, PTC emerged as the clear winner.

Implementation was straightforward, as developers at Insitu were able to quickly learn and adapt to the new tool even without a background in ALM. Retrieving information was also straightforward and required no software engineering background and no training on the tool.

Fast forward to 2015 — eight years later – and Insitu’s ALM implementation is still going strong. The company has evolved its process to drive ever greater productivity and innovation from its software development teams — from Waterfall to Scrum, KanBan and mixed “Scrum-Ban” methodologies. Seeking greater reuse, Insitu has embarked upon an initiative to refactor formerly monolithic product lines into flexible and configurable platforms and variants, supported by more component-based software.

Throughout this architectural and process transformation, Insitu continues to rely on PTC Integrity Lifecycle Manager as its ALM solution of record to deliver traceability, transparency and process governance across the software development lifecycle.

PTC Integrity Lifecycle Manager gives us a robust feature set. At any point anybody in the company can see what anybody on the team is doing and get a complete quality read-out with detailed drill down – all in real time, on any product we’ve shipped. That level of transparency has had a huge and positive impact on the business.”

— Jim Miller
Senior Software Department Manager for Insitu

A Commitment to Software Excellence

Insitu’s UAS are the culmination of the integration of a variety of systems, and software is central to that integration. In fact the Integrator™ was named for exactly that reason. Software is included not only in the aircraft systems themselves, but also in the communication software that links the aircraft to ground control, as well as the software on the ground that flies the plane, controls the payload, and points the camera — involving image processing control and communications and networking algorithms. It is this software that makes the aircraft “smarter”.

These different software domains are where the complexity begins to surface. Several video feeds need to be aligned with data from aircraft navigation systems in order to synchronize the location data with the related video (for example, this frame of video corresponds to this location) and this requires an intricate amalgamation of systems. Decisions made and the resulting coordinated actions of the systems are not unlike those made by a human in manned aircraft. Despite this complexity, all these software modules must work cooperatively for effective operation of the UAS.

In a high precision, safety-sensitive system such as this, the software may have hundreds of specifications related to safety contingencies. Insitu needed a tool that could link all processes including requirements management, traceability of requirements, change control, creation of specifications, and test plans, as well as a tool that could scale to meet demand.

“We have to have traceability. A lot of what we do is contract based so the ability to clearly define requirements is crucial. Tracing what we do from an implementation point of view back to the requirements and being able to fulfill it and show that traceability is a core part of our business,” explains Jim Miller, Senior Software Department Manager.

Setting the Stage: ALM Challenges

In 2006, Insitu’s explosive growth had rendered existing development tools and development processes obsolete. They required a flexible, comprehensive tool that would address the challenges created by accelerating growth and the need to achieve and demonstrate CMMI Level III compliance. Additional challenges included:


  • Meeting CMMI Level III compliance in 9 months
  • Finding a tool that is easy to learn and use
  • Scaling without adding additional headcount
  • Coordinating and syncing complex software-related functions of the UAS — including the aircraft navigation, video feeds, ground control and communications — as an integrated system
  • Demonstrating compliance with safety requirements using end-to-end traceability through the development process
  • Creating a single software package per release, including all auto pilot code, payload code and ground station code — hundreds of specifications that must be tested and traced back to original requirements
  • Easily adding changes requested by management
  • Providing product status to customers in a single unified report
  • Enabling the iteration of different software components at different times, allowing safety related features to be updated at a slower cycle to ensure safety requirements are met
  • Integrating requirements management, traceability, change management, specifications and test plans so customers are confident that what is delivered, meets specifications
  • Accommodating customer’s Waterfall requirements while still enabling Insitu’s development goal to evolve to a Scrum and KanBan methodology
  • Providing IBM Rational DOORS integration to support customer requirements documents

Implementing an Integrated Development Process

With the solution from PTC, Insitu designed a software development process that integrates requirements management, traceability of requirements, defect management, user stories, change control, creation of specifications and test suites. This enabled the creation of a single software package per release that encompasses the breadth of complex software in the UAS. Because all information is stored and managed within one tool, Insitu could mine data and create a customer specific report (called the verification results report or VSR) that shows a single coherent picture, capturing the scope of a project. The report illustrated work that is complete and how work is progressing, based on the schedule. The VSR shows the size of individual increments of work, but also presents results at a higher level based on the overall project, providing a range of stakeholders a quick snapshot of where the product is at any given point in time.

A single software package per release merges all software code from ground control software, autopilot code, payload code, navigation software and safety-critical code, and allows each of these software components to easily iterate at different times while still tracing a vast and varied mix of specifications and change requests from end to end. This enables Insitu to scale with demand, winning larger government contracts and more of them — without adding software development resources or sacrificing quality.

Because all artifacts are integrated, linked and traced from a single source of truth, it can be easily determined that the final product fulfills the original requirements — important in demonstrating safety compliance and ensuring quality. “Beyond contractual requirements, good software development discipline leads to making sure that we deliver what we say and we do it in a quality way,” said Miller. “It’s imperative that from a team perspective we know the requirements, we can trace testing to those requirements, and we can deliver to the customer. At the same time, this is all done transparently and with utmost quality.”

Innovating at the Speed of Software

Insitu’s commitment to continuous innovation extends to its software development culture. “We were one of the first companies to ever implement Scrum in a DoD environment,” explains Miller. “It’s had a huge benefit, including the ability to demo working software, show our customers progress on a monthly basis, and even potentially introduce changes earlier in the development lifecycle.”

Over time, the company has experimented with different Agile variants – including Scrum, KanBan, and a mix dubbed “KanScrum”. The configurability afforded by PTC Integrity has made it possible to introduce these and other changes in the software development process, without losing the key attributes of traceability and process compliance the company relies upon.

The company is also undergoing an architectural evolution as it moves from standalone products to platforms and variants with shared components. “As we get to the next generation of products, more and more pieces will be shared. How we share and track both the commonalities and differences presents a huge challenge and opportunity for us,” explains Miller. The ability to deliver detailed software lifecycle traceability across both horizontal (user story to test case) and vertical (component to sub-component) axes is expected to support this transformation.

Collaboration is a key requirement for Insitu, as it must share information with internal teams, customers and suppliers. Many of the company’s older contracts require the development team to access product requirements in an IBM DOORS database. The company can easily access and trace requirements data stored in DOORS, yet gain all the benefits of a unified software lifecycle using PTC Integrity Lifecycle Manager.

Over time, the company has expanded the usage of PTC Integrity Lifecycle Manager, to provide greater visibility and transparency across software development teams and disciplines.

“What’s happening on the ground can very much impact what’s happening in the air and vice versa,” Miller explains. “Having the tool to be able to go across those platforms and having everybody trained on the same system means that people can quickly jump in and contribute to get the release out the door.”

Business Benefits

PTC’s ALM solution offers Insitu a unified solution that records and manages all of their artifacts. Despite the many complexities in their systems, all of Insitu’s software modules now work cooperatively for effective operation of the UAS. “PTC Lifecycle Manager offers support to many different functions. It supports our inventory management through the way we structure how we work, through capturing history, through management of our resources, and through tracking defects. It is amazing that a single tool is capable of supporting many different roles within the same application,” says Monika Brink, Software Developer / Integrity Admin for Insitu.

Insitu’s current tool now links all of their processes including requirements management, traceability of requirements, change control, creation of specifications, and test plans. PTC’s tool scales easily to meet customer demand while still maintaining the flexibility to test and verify that a range of products meet each customer’s product specifications.

Insitu has achieved this and much more:

CMMI Level III compliance in fewer than 9 months without
additional headcount


  • Awarded a DoD contract for ScanEagle® ISR services
  • Integration with DOORS database, improving efficiency and collaboration
  • Flexible support for multiple process variants, including
  • Waterfall, Scrum, KanBan and hybrid agile variants
  • Verification and validation of requirements, with detailed reporting and metrics
  • Support for all artifacts in one solution, reducing test time and improving time-to-market
  • Improved transparency, enabling cross-discipline collaboration and the foundation for re-use

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