The Tough World of Ruggedized Devices


A not-so-small minority of mobile computing devices are used by people who work at construction sites, in the military and other harsh environments. I haven't seen Bear Grylls walking through Siberia or Patagonia with one yet, but it is a good bet that the crew trudging behind him has a few.


This week, Panasonic introduced a Toughbook mini tablet, which is based on Intel's Atom. InfoWorld describes the layout of the keyboard, designed for folks in awkward positions, and features aimed at keeping water, dust and debris out of the unit.


Power is a big issue for these devices, since somebody in the jungle or desert generally can't recharge. This week, UltraCell introduced the XX25, a 25-watt mobile fuel cell system for ruggedized computers. The company says it can run a laptop for 14 hours on a 250cc methanol cartridge. The weight savings compared to the battery necessary to offer the same operating power is 65 percent, the company says. The cell was developed under a contract with The Army's Communications-Electronics Research, Development and Engineering Center (CERDEC) and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). The contract has been extended for further tests, the story says.


This spring, Dell introduced the Latitude XFR D630, its first ruggedized device. The device meets MIL-STD 810F standards from the Department of Defense and offers high durability, fast battery charging, a highly readable screen, integrated resistive touch technology, shock isolation, dual locking butterfly mechanisms for easy component access and a sealed keyboard.


It can be fun to test these machines. Last month, Computerworld tested three ruggedized notebooks to see just how tough they are. The piece describes the category and points out that there is a "semi-rugged" category. The three devices the reviewers went to town on are General Dynamics' Itronix GoBook XR-1, Getac's M230 and Panasonic's Toughbook 30. The piece includes a fun video showing machines being dropped from various heights (it looks like they did it in the storeroom). The piece offers a capsule on each device, and concludes with two charts. One looks at damage incurred by each from dropping, vibration, moisture, sand and submersion. The other looks at three performance benchmarks, including battery life.


This post goes over the high points of the life of a ruggedized computer. There is nothing surprising -- the machines are geared for use in harsh environments -- but it does make the point that they come in a variety of styles. It is also is worth remembering that features such as swiveling and outdoor-viewable transflective LCDs screens don't necessarily make the computer more impervious to damage, but do make them easier to use in harsh environments.