April 14, 2003
Ruggedized Computers, Part 2
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Welcome to GISWeekly! This week's GISWeekly will feature the second story in a two-part series on Ruggedized
Computers. These computers are playing a vital role overseas in the War in Iraq as well as in many industries such as
government, utilities, public safety, construction, transportation and distribution - anywhere a computer can be subjected
to extreme climate conditions, or vibration.
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Ruggedized Computers, Part 2
This is the second in a two-part series on ruggedized computers. Many of these computers are being used by the military in
the War in Iraq and GIS industries such as utilities, public safety, construction, transportation and
distribution. Computing devices are now smaller than they have ever been for wartime use, plus they are optimized for
wireless. This week we feature the companies Itronix and Amrel, established vendors who provide ruggedized computers built
to rigorous military standards and customized to serve other various markets.
Today, high speed internet lines allow soldiers and journalists to make connections from almost anywhere. Now digital images
are being delivered from surveillance satellites and spy planes, and computers can transmit position. A networked tracking
system using Wi-Fi bar code scanners and handheld computing systems can track soldiers' supplies such as fuel and
ammunition. Yet ruggedized computers need to be able to do all this and much more.
Itronix, in business for over 20 years, makes a variety of notebook and handheld ruggedized computers. "All we do is
implement wireless mobile computing solutions," claims Matt Gerber, VP Marketing and Business Development for Itronix.
The company's customers include telecommunications, utilities, commercial field service, government - both federal and
non-military and civilian applications as well as city, state and local, as well as the insurance marketplace. GIS related
applications are part of almost all of these markets.
Gerber said that what makes Itronix products different is a very deep set of implementation capabilities. "What that means
is that for most of our customers, in addition to providing them with a rugged computer, we provide them with a whole host
of other things that helps them save money on an implementation, helps them implement a system more quickly and helps them
lower their risk of implementation. Things we do to that effect include helping them cost-justify the project, helping them
plan a project, develop software, integrate wireless capabilities, project management related tasks, aging equipment,
managing their software load, and post sales services, up to and including first line help desk support. We help trouble
shoot hardware as well as provide software."
The small end of the Itronix product family starts with the ultra rugged Q100 which is a QVGA pocket PC ultra rugged
handheld. "The ultra rugged Q100 can be immersed in water, if you wanted to clean it because you dropped it in the mud you
can take a pail of water and literally stick it under water and move it around and pull it out," said Gerber. "It was on CNN
this morning. The host actually dunked it in water for the entire segment as it continued to operate."
Recently the company received an email from a Marine using one of their GoBook laptops who was thrilled because in the
foggy, dusty tent the computer wasn't even affected by the sand and dust.
Because there are varying levels of ruggedization, many customers will ask, "What kind of ruggedized computer do I need to
At the large end of the range is the GoBook MAX, an ultra rugged, wireless notebook computer. The Gobook II notebook
computer was just launched recently as their most advanced wireless rugged computer largely because of its concurrent
support for up to three wireless technologies and its Pentium IV processing power.. They also have a semi rugged notebook
called GoBook Pro, and another handheld called the H206, which is a half VGA rugged computer.
The functionality of the handheld is different from the notebook computer in that there are two very different core
technologies. The handheld uses Microsoft Windows CE Operating System and laptops run Windows XP 2000, what you find on a
standard commodity laptop.
All machines are designed for field use, and used in a variety of environments. "The reason we design different levels of
ruggedization into the machines is typically they are used in different applications," explained Gerber. "The ultra-rugged
GoBook MAX would be used by a soldier on the battlefield. The computer might be in a foxhole or command bunker in all kinds
of weather, sitting in the mud or snow. It's designed for exposure to pretty harsh environments. The GoBook II is designed
for applications where it would be mounted in the vehicle, subject to occasional drops and a lot of vibration."
Dust and water protection are measured by what are called IP ratings - the IP rating denotes just how much dust and water a
machine can withstand. The ultra rugged products are rated IP 65. The machines are sealed depending upon the level of
ruggedization required for that product.
Itronix offers a limited amount of customization, such as unique radios that customers will ask to have integrated into
their computers. The company recently won an award with their partner Trident as part of the latest Defense bill to help the
military develop and deploy "mounted situational awareness systems" - on the handhelds Q100 and H206, used by foot soldiers
in the front lines of the battlefield. This system is a computer attached to what they call a "SYNCGARS" radio that has GPS
capability. The soldier will put his coordinates into a terrain map and at the same time be able to view all of the other
information on the terrain map that's been input by other soldiers at the command headquarters. GPS is part of the system,
so that all the soldiers can see where they are on the map as well as where all the friendlies are and where the enemy and
enemy assets are. That information gets relayed back up to the local command post. Instead of having soldiers relaying voice
information back to him or her, the officer in the command post gets this very accurate and current reading of where
everybody and everything is in the field.
Amrel designs so many types of rugged computers, it wouldn't do the company justice to list them all here. A quick trip to
their website will clarify the various designs that are targeted towards a diverse audience of military/federal, law
enforcement, fire, utilities and telecommunications customers.
Rugged computer units designed for the military must endure rigorous testing to ensure that they are able to withstand
shock, vibration, water, humidity, dust, sand, altitude, temperature extremes and thermal shock. Amrel's Federal Computer
Group (FCG) was established to address the specific needs of the military and federal government. The ROCKY Patriot computer
line of fully rugged laptops, fixed on-board and tablet computers are certified to the MIL-STD-810F, which prescribes
testing that equals the abuse a computer will receive out in the field. The Patriot line is only available to the federal
government and the military and is offered as a commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) product The FCG also develops industry
specific solutions based on customers' needs, which they refer to as their "Customized COTS" Program.
According to Linda Talcott, director of marketing at Amrel, the ROCKY Patriot product line is also certified to
MIL-STD-461D, this standard establishes the design requirements for the control of electromagnetic emissions.
Although Amrel has different product lines for law enforcement, utilities, and telecommunications, all their lines have
certain common characteristics. For instance, the notebook has an "Advanced Modular Platform" design - this modular design
allows for easy upgrades, device integration and field servicing. If the unit had a problem you could actually service it by
replacing swappable components (CD-ROM, FDD, HDD etc) rather than having to send the system back in. The motherboard on the
notebook computer can be upgraded easily with a faster CPU and/or higher memory so that for example, three years from now,
customers can just upgrade without having to replace the entire unit. This also saves IT costs since there is no need to
change out new systems, reinstall software, and retrain users on new systems. The notebook also includes a Amrel's unique
"Fault Tolerant Isolation" Design, an encapsulation process that seals internal chambers, providing special protection
against water and dust penetrating to the motherboard.
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