BY John Keller
Tablet computers built rugged enough for aerospace and defense applications have been around for decades, yet for much of that time have been considered somewhat of an oddity.
Not so today. What's changing attitudes about rugged tablets in aerospace and defense circles are the ubiquitous Apple iPad, iPhone, and other smart phones with multi-touch screens.
"We feel good that we're in the rugged tablet business, because we see the market moving in our direction," says Bill Guyan, vice president of programs and strategy for rugged computer maker DRS Tactical Systems in Melbourne, Fla. "The tablet is an elegant way for people to stay connected and do their jobs."
"Tablets are a hot topic right now because of what is going on in the consumer space," says Patrick White, vice president of strategic marketing at General Dynamics Itronix in Sunrise, Fla. "Tablets bring new software capabilities, finger gestures, and multi-touch capabilities that enable us to reduce the display size on tablet computers from seven or nine inches, and get the same functionality you get in a 12- or 13-inch display."
Interest in tablet computing in the military community mirrors interest in commercially available tablet computers and the rapidly growing universe of tablet and smart phone applications from Apple, as well as from open-source software developers working with the Linux-based Android mobile operating system.
Android is an open-source mobile operating system based upon the Linux kernel, and has a large community of developers writing application programs. "The emergence of the iPad and iPhone are getting customers more familiar with the use of touch screens," says DRS's Guyan. "We have made tablets for more than 20 years, but there was always a preference for a keyboard interface.
Some rugged computer manufacturers caution military users against using consumer-grade devices in the field.
"You have these guys climbing up into a C-5 [cargo jet], which is like climbing up several stories in a building," says Fed de Gastyne, business development manager for the federal team at Panasonic Solutions Co. in Secaucus, N.J. "My concern is please don't take anything up in the aircraft that is not MIL-STD-810G tested.