Rugged displays are everywhere on and above the battlefield today. Whether systems designers are looking for a display in a cockpit, for a ground vehicle, or for a rugged tablet, there are many different factors to consider for what these displays need to do. Different displays require different levels of brightness, for example. Displays also must fit a variety of sizes and include different controls and different kinds of screens.
These considerations are important because displays enable pilots in aircraft, foot soldiers on the ground, and warship crews to share situational-awareness information, so display designers and display users must be careful when they consider the many varieties of displays available today for aerospace and defense applications.
Brightness is a major concern because it helps determine whether a display is sunlight readable or night-vision compatible. Sunlight readability is a particularly large concern for aircraft displays to counteract the effects of bright daylight in the cockpit that can wash out many display technologies.
"In an aircraft environment, where you're in a bright sky, you're getting sunlight in through the cockpit, and if that's hitting your display and it's not bright enough you can't read it," points out Christian Steward, product marketing manager for SyQuest at Curtiss-Wright Controls Defense Solutions in Colchester, England.
To be sunlight readable, displays must have brightness of at least 600 or more candelas. For night-vision compatibility, a display must be darker, which means adjustable brightness, a filter, or a night-vision switch is necessary.
Another concern for displays has cropped up thanks to advances in image-capture technology. "All major turret manufacturers now put out an HD video feed," says Curtiss- Wright's Steward. The introduction of 1,080-pixel resolution video means rugged displays must evolve to keep up with the increased picture quality, and demands for these rugged HD displays have increased. Of course, HD isn't the only way picture quality can be improved.
Color resolution and 3D can make a big impact for photographs and video feeds. "If you're doing imagery analysis, 8-bit color depth or higher is very useful," says Aaron Sherman, marketing director at NextComputing in Nashua, N.H. With a larger range of color, it is easier to pick out combatants, vehicles, and machinery that would be missed with lower color depth images. In addition, 3D imagery allows for easier identification of objects against landscapes, further enhancing image analysis for intelligence purposes.
Another recent trend in displays is the popularity of touch screens, which has risen as touch screens became the standard of smartphones and other commercial electronics. The most popular touch screen for rugged displays is the five-wire resistive screen.
"You can pretty much touch it with anything, and if part of it is damaged, it will still function," explains Richard Panton, president and chief executive officer of ConTech in Doylestown, Pa. Military and aerospace systems integrators are demanding touch screens that work even when damaged or touched with gloved hands or a stylus.
In addition to the functionality of a display, systems integrators also must consider several varieties of screens to make the best design choice.
Among the most popular display types for aerospace and defense applications are liquid crystal displays (LCDs) and organic light-emitting diode (OLED).
LCDs represent an established technology common in most vehicles. Still, OLED screens have many advantages. They consume less power than LCDs, offer much higher contrast, and are improving by leaps and bounds. LCD screens are inexpensive, provide high resolution, are easy to adapt for night vision, and are a more mature technology, which can be an advantage in the display market.
"A huge factor that is often ignored in the market is a balancing act," explains Brian Herr, display integration program manager at Dontech. "The display industry right now is being driven by the commercial market and it's very costly to change for the rugged market. A factor in the display world is finding a platform that can serve and support the product life."
Because displays represent a massive commercial business run by relatively few companies, popular technologies such as LCDs are far less expensive and easier to obtain than OLED displays.
Smart displays also have become a popular option. "Smart displays-displays with PCs built into the product themselves-can add any software on that the customer wants," explains Curtiss-Wright's Steward. Smart displays aren't simply screens; they feature processing power and memory so they can run programs. For example, a display that runs a program to produce a map also can update that map continually based on several different system inputs.
With so many options for displays, it can be difficult to pick the proper one. "We're kind of at a crossroads," says Dontech's Herr. "The military has a couple of large vehicle programs out there that are pending funding." Until the military decides which programs will be receiving funding, it's difficult to predict which rugged display technologies will advance or stagnate.
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