Reliability, small size, and fast performance drive rugged military hand-held devices

Click to EnlargePosted by John McHale

Product Intelligence, 12 Aug. 2011. Designers of rugged hand-held device for military systems such as rugged tablets want the features that top every military engineer’s high-performance technology wish lists -- lower size, weight, and power (SWaP), but what rugged computer users really need is something that can survive and perform consistently in a harsh battlefield environment.


Military tablet customers have many of the same wants as desktop customers -- faster processor, lightweight, long battery life, low cost -- however, the most important capability that our customers look for is mission critical reliability,” says Bill Guyan, vice president of programs and strategy at DRS Tactical Systems in Melbourne, Fla. “Initially, computers were introduced to the battlefield and treated as nice to have systems. Today, in the networked era, computers are the entry point to the network for soldiers and leaders -- and they must be demanded upon to work.

“Reliability for rugged tablets means: warfighters can read it in the direct sunlight of the desert; can use it in the hottest heat of the desert; can use it in the cold weather of the Arctic; can drop it and it won’t stop working; can mount it to a M-ATV or M1A1 Abrams and use it on the move; and can use it in the rain and in the dust,” Guyan says.

Steve Motter, vice president of business development for IEE Inc. in Van Nuys, Calif., says users of his company’s hand-held products also want rugged features. Typically they are looking for “a small, lightweight, hand-held device with a touch screen display, designed to include sufficient environmental sealing to withstand the extreme environments found in a military application.

”Our customers are looking for an iPad or Droid-based tablet that is capable of being dropped in a puddle, exposed to sand and dust, withstand a high humidity environment, and operate with a gloved hand,” he adds.

“The tablet business is growing,” Guyan says. “User familiarity with touch-screen interfaces has increased user acceptance and actually created a user-demand for the more flexible tablet form factor. The tablet PC is well-suited for use as a dismountable network device because it is optimized for SWaP. It reduces the space claim required for mounting inside a platform and is also easily stowed or carried by the dismounted soldier. In fact, we began to see an increased demand for tablets from the military market before commercial products like the iPad were launched.

The biggest challenge for rugged hand-held systems has become security, Motter says. “The hand-held device's operating system, must provide the facilities to host applications and data that have different levels of classification. We are investigating the use of data/processing partitioning inherent in higher performance single-board computers or MILS (multiple levels of security). This could allow for the use of open source Droid App's and custom classified military applications operating within the same hand-held device.

The DRS Joint Platform Tablet (JPT) is the company’s latest rugged tablet product, Guyan says. It has a 10.4 inch rugged sunlight readable touch screen display, 1.66 gigahertz Core 2 Duo processor, 4 gigabytes of RAM, a 128 gigabyte solid state hard drive, two X hot-swappable and rechargeable lithium ion batteries, and optionally available embedded commercial or SAASM GPS, embedded TACLINK, vehicle mounting installation kit, external keyboard, and secure rugged thumb drive.

“We are expanding our product offering to include multiple form factors for different user profiles,” Guyan says. “For example, some users want a smart phone form factor to stow in their pocket.

IEE engineers offer the Hand Held Control Display Unit (HH-CDU), a sunlight readable, military-qualified unit with an optional zeroize switch under an accident proof cover, Motter says. The device meets MIL-STD-810 shock, vibration, altitude, blowing rain, sand and dust, salt fog, explosive atmosphere and immersion specifications, and operates from -40 to 70 degrees Celsius. It features a night vision B compatible backlight keypad with MIL-P-7788 edge-lit type keys and a super twist wide view liquid crystal display with unfiltered backlight and night vision B compatible backlight.

Company listing

Amrel Computer Division
El Monte, Calif.
626-443-6818
www.amrel.com/rugged-computers

Argon Corp.
Great Neck, N.Y.
678-608-4930
www.argoncorp.com

Broadax Systems Inc.
City of Industry, Calif.
626-964-2600
www.bsicomputer.com

Cyberchron Rugged Systems
Cold Springs, N.Y.
845-265-3700
www.cyberchron.com

Dell Inc.
Round Rock, Texas
800-915-3355
www.dell.com

DRS Tactical Systems
Melbourne, Fla.
321-727-3672
www.drs-ts.com

Elbit Systems of America C4I Solutions
Tallahassee, Fla.
850-350-8444
www.elbitsystems-us.com

General Dynamics C4 Systems
Scottsdale, Ariz.
480-441-3033
www.gdc4s.com

General Dynamics Itronix
Sunrise, Fla.
954-846-3400
www.gd-itronix.com

Getac Inc.
Lake Forest, Calif.
949-699-2888
www.getac.com

IBI Systems Inc.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
954-978-9225
www.ibi-systems.com

IEE Inc.
Van Nuys, Calif.
818-787-0311
www.ieeinc.com

Industrial Computing
Waltham, Mass.
781-890-3111
www.industcomputing.com

Intermec Inc.
Everett, Wash.
425-348-2600
www.intermec.com

MaxVision
Madison, Ala.
800-533-5805
www.maxvision.com

MilDef AB
Helsingborg, Sweden
+46 42 250000
www.mildef.se

NextComputing
Nashua, N.H.
603-886-3874
www.nextcomputing.com

Panasonic Solutions Co.
Secaucus, N.J.
888-223-1012
www.panasonic.com/toughbook

Roper Mobile Technology
Tempe, Ariz.
480-705-4200
www.ropermobile.com

Rugged Notebooks Inc.
Anaheim, Calif.
714-998-1828
www.ruggednotebooks.com

Stealth Computer Corp.
Woodbridge, Ontario
905-264-9000
www.stealthcomputer.com

TAG
Dulles, Va.
703-406-3000
www.tag.com

Trimble Outdoor Computers
Sunnyvale, Calif.
800-874-6253
www.trimble.com/Outdoor-Rugged-Computers

Two Technologies Inc.
Horsham, Pa.
215-441-5305
www.2T.com

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