New features enable tactical computing products to survive the battlefield

Next-generation laptops, displays and mobile devices can endure the extreme conditions found at the tactical edge.

Laptops, displays, and mobile devices all find use at the tactical edge, and require protection against shock, water, debris and temperature extremes. Here’s a look at the latest tactical computing systems for use in harsh environments and what’s new in the industry.

Panasonic Toughbook 19

Panasonic recently upgraded its best-selling, fully rugged convertible tablet PC, the Toughbook 19. It now comes with a faster Intel CoreTM i5-3320M vProTM processor with speeds up to 3.3GHz, Intel Turbo Boost Technology, expanded storage, USB 3.0, and a more responsive touchpad. It is MIL-STD-810G and IP65 certified, offering the same fully rugged durability that users have come to trust in prior Toughbooks.

Its ambient light sensor automatically shuts off backlighting, offering 10 percent longer battery life, delivering 10 hours per MobileMark 2007 testing on the touch model. The computer’s Battery Calibration Tool can now run in the background, allowing users to work while the battery is being calibrated.

Its optional integrated 4G LTE wireless, 3G Gobi mobile broadband, and GPS technology offers improved accuracy, fast satellite acquisition time, and low power consumption. It also has Intel Centrino Advanced-N 6235 Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n, Bluetooth v. 4.0 + EDR (Class 1) and numerous other connectivity options.

VT Milope’s rugged tablets and PDAs

VT Miltope’s RTCS-2 is the latest mounted Rugged Tablet Computer System (RTCS) coupling a RTCU-2 rugged tablet with an active vehicle mounting dock. The design segregates vehicle-specific applications from the tablet, to keep size and weight down when using the tablet without the dock. The tablet can communicate wirelessly to the dock and direct vehicle actions from nearby locations, such as the engine compartment.

VT Miltope offers three versions of its ruggedized personal digital assistant (PDA) allowing operation in the most extreme environments. With a 4.1" sunlight readable touchscreen, the RPDA-1 base unit has SD card access and an expansion module for up to two (2) type-II PC Cards or one (1) type-III PC Card. The RPDA-1P version has dual PCMCIA card access, and the RPDA-1S version adds an SAASM / TACLINK 3000+ expansion module (STEM) and an internal L1/L2 Global Positioning System (GPS) antenna. The PDAs run Windows CE, Windows Mobile, Linux, and Android operating systems, and use a tethered stylus or touch input.

Xplore Technologies laptops and display advancements

New features are enabling tactical computing products to be suitable for military battle conditions and other defense and homeland security industries. “In the case that you are being overrun or captured, you must destroy your hard drive in front of an officer,” said Mark Holleran, president and chief operating officer of Xplore Technologies. “The newest systems contain tool-less removable hard drives that pop out. You can remove a hard drive by pressing down and squeezing in a matter of a few seconds, as opposed to getting a screwdriver out and un-doing a dozen screws. They also have tool-less access to the SD stick. These features also are applicable for top secret classified data that you can’t leave on a computer, making it easier to carry the data with you.”

Xplore offers the only in-theater repairable and upgradable Tablet PC in the market, Holleran said. “You can upgrade the Xplore iX104C series RAM with 4 screws, change the radios with only 1 screw, change the SIM cards and hard drives tool-lessly, and swap the entire panel of ports easily,” he said. There is a fully-shielded version suitable for battle conditions in military vehicles that avoids tracking. “The U.S. wins wars though the use of technology. This is one of those units,” he said.

New display technologies are enabling outdoor vehicle screens to be seen in the brilliant sunlight and to run cooler so heat doesn’t affect operations in desert heat. Xplore’s new heat sink technology and sealed fans allows devices to run 14C cooler than prior generation devices.

“They are suitable for use in hot vehicles, from -40C to +50C, and you can still see the maps,” Holleran said. “The Abu Dabi police force uses Xplore displays on their vehicles. With 70 days of summer vehicle temperatures at 40-50C, ours is the only product that survives.”

Coming next to tactical computing systems are touch functionality in screens and LTE wireless technology. “We’re also developing new technology that will give magnitudes of improvement over existing products, in processors, screen view-ability, and overall system performance including graphics,” Holleran said.

Parvus ruggedizing networking products

Parvus believes there is a large demand for the industry’s best IP networking technology, repackaged. Cisco Systems is a leader has a large market share. While Cisco’s commercial technologies may not have originally been conceived for a military or rugged environment, Parvus ruggedizes their switches and routers. Parvus removes the electronics from the enclosure, provides military connectors, and hardens the devices for shock, vibration, temperature, humidity, and altitude, making them military-worthy for use on board tanks, unmanned aerial vehicles, and Blackhawk helicopters.

Their devices include network routers for mobile devices used on the move, while deployed and in the field, that maintain the network while not connected to traditional IT resources. They allow voice-over-IP communications or IP phones to share information within the local network and provide more network-centric awareness.

Parvus also develops in-vehicle computers for military vehicles or aircraft. Rugged built-in computing devices are embedded mission computers that don't have flat panel screens, and provide mission functionality for command and control, without use of a keyboard or mouse.

Parvus’ latest networking product, the DuraMar5915 Mobile Access Router, is based on Cisco's latest 5915 access router. The Parvus modular design offers a standalone router, router-ethernet switch, or router switch and general purpose computer all in the same enclosure.

Next-generation rugged computers are not only designed to military standards for shock, vibration, thermal, altitude, conducted/radiated emissions and susceptibility, and humidity, but also are sealed against water and dust, and can contain corrosion-resistant chassis and connectors.

The DuraCOR 80-40 is Parvus’ latest mission computer, with rugged board-level and system components, based on Intel's multi-core i7 processor. It’s a completely sealed box that achieves cooling with no fans, chillers, or moving parts. It is passively cooled by conduction on the inside of the box, and takes advantage of natural convection from standard airflow on the outside of the box to handle extremely wide operating temperature ranges, from -40C to 71C.

Parvus offers open architecture designs that are based on the PC/104 embedded computing architecture, and are board-standard, modular, and stackable. This form factor is smaller than others architectures such as virtual machine environment. Its base commercial, off-the-shelf computer is the equivalent of a motherboard, a single-board computer, and a power supply, with additional slots for I/O peripherals, GPS devices, video encoders or other data acquisition devices.

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