Convergence of technologies is the name of the game for rugged mobile computing

Small size and weight, low power consumption, and big functionality are major trends today in rugged mobile computing devices for aerospace and defense applications, such as rugged laptop computers, rugged tablet computers, and rugged handheld computers, industry experts say.

Not only are size and functionality big concerns, but the ability to consolidate many different functions into extremely small packages are major design trends, as well.

"The most important trend is the convergence of technologies," explains Bill Guyan, vice president of strategy for the DRS Technologies Network and Communications Solutions segment in Melbourne, Fla. (formerly DRS Tactical Systems Inc.).

The eight-ounce General Dynamics Itronix GD300 wearable computer saw deployment in Afghanistan.
The eight-ounce General Dynamics Itronix GD300 wearable computer saw deployment in Afghanistan.

"There is no room for single- purpose boxes anymore, as evidenced by the evolution of smartphones and laptop computers," Guyan says. "Whether embedded cameras or other attachments, the computer by itself is not the be-all and end-all, but is the enabler of other technologies."

Convergence of technologies in rugged mobile devices often is driven by customer feedback, says Carlos Nieves, rugged computing product manager at General dynamics C4 Systems in Scottsdale, Ariz. "In addition to size, weight, and power improvements, new product designs and updates incorporate customer feedback," he says.

"For instance, the eight-ounce GD300 [wearable computer] proved its mettle with the 75th Ranger Regiment in Afghanistan earlier this year," Nieves says. "Based on the Rangers' feedback, the new GD300B includes a vibration motor that silent signals an incoming message.

"An embedded 3-megapixel camera, accelerometer, and eCompass have been added," Nieves says. "All this new functionality is contained in the same size, weight, and long battery life of its predecessor." The GD300 and GD300B Android-based wearable computers are manufactured by General Dynamics Itronix Inc. in Sunrise, Fla.

Also based on customer feedback, DRS has introduced the C4InSight integrated management system for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR). It enables commanders to control sensors, communications equipment, mission command applications, navigational devices, and platform vetronics from any workstation in the platform, connected across the tactical network.

When it comes to new applications for rugged mobile devices, however, military forces are not leading the way; the civil market still is setting the pace for applications of mobile devices, DRS's Guyan says.

"In many ways, the military market is mirroring developments in the commercial market," Guyan says. "As soldiers, airmen, and Marines see computing devices used in different ways in the civilian world, they adapt them for similar applications in the military. As the price drops and the selection of different form factors increases, it is easy to adapt mobile devices for new functions."

One example, Guyan says, is the "tablets rather than the old clip board" application. "There is nothing revolutionary happening in defense and aerospace," he says. "It is adaption and adoption." Rugged mobile devices, he says, "are doing the same things on the battlefield that they have been doing in the civilian world."

One big difference for military and aerospace rugged mobile device users compared to civil users is the need for security and encryption. "The information-assurance imperative is ever-present, and one of the bigger barriers to adopting rugged mobile computing for some military applications," Guyan says.


AMREL Computer Division

El Monte, Calif.

Dell Inc.
Round Rock, Texas

DRS Network and Communications Solutions
Melbourne, Fla.

Elbit Systems of America LLC
Fort Worth, Texas

GammaTech Computer Corp.
Fremont, Calif.

General Dynamics C4 Systems
Scottsdale, Ariz.

General Dynamics Itronix Inc.
Sunrise, Fla.

Getac Inc.
Irvine, Calif.

Handheld USA Inc.
Corvallis, Ore.

Harris Corp. RF Communications Division
Rochester, N.Y.

Hewlett-Packard Inc.
Palo Alto, Calif.

InHand Electronics Inc.
Rockville, Md.

Mobilicom Ltd.
Azor, Israel
+972 777 10 30 60

Hiawatha, Iowa

Motion Computing Inc.
Austin, Texas.

NEXCOM International Ltd.
Fremont, Calif.

Panasonic Solutions Co.
Secaucus, N.J.

RMT Inc.
Tempe, Ariz.

Rugged Notebooks Inc.
Orange, Calif.

Stealth Computer Inc.
Woodbridge, Ontario

Two Technologies Inc.
Horsham, Pa.

VT Miltope Hope
Hull, Ala.

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