By John Keller
U.S. manufacturers of rugged laptop and notebook computers have a message for the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), which is deploying forces in increasing numbers that need reliable and lightweight computing power.
We told you so.
That’s right. No so long ago plenty of DOD officials could be found who said ruggedized laptop computers were largely unnecessary for all except the most extreme of operating environments. Dust, direct sunlight, some moisture here and there-not a big deal. If a notebook computer failed in the field, so what? These machines are cheap enough to make simply throwing away the bad computer and replacing it with a new one a viable option.
At least that’s what they thought.
“We used to hear from customers that they could buy two $2,000 laptops instead of one $4,000 laptop,” says Jan O’Hara, senior director of the Panasonic Corp. of America federal division in Seacaucus, N.J. “But now you have all this sensitive data that you have to dispose of.”
U.S. military portable computer users have come to realize that laptop computers are repositories of often-irreplaceable and sensitive data, not throw-away commodities, and this has given them reason to reconsider buying specially designed ruggedized laptops, not only for the sake of reliability but also to safeguard crucial data.
“They absolutely cannot afford the downtime of disposing of laptop computers,” says O’Hara, whose company’s Toughbook line of ruggedized computers controls about 70 percent of the U.S. market for extra-durable laptop and notebook computers. Military users, she says, “are asking for more ruggedness, and 24/7 availability. In Iraq we saw 70 to 80 percent failures of commercial laptops, but with us it is more like 1 percent failures.”
Today’s military users, in fact, think of their rugged laptops as far more than just computing devices. “A laptop is no longer just a computer,” explains Joe Guest, manager of the Army team at Panasonic. “It is more of a tool for their communications. Today that laptop may be just as important as their rifle or wrench.”
Extra ruggedness and reliability are not the only important needs of today’s military laptop and notebook computer users. Wi-Fi and Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) capability have become necessities instead of luxuries.
“Wi-Fi and GSM capability play a big role in today’s market,” says Alan Shad, president and chief executive officer of Rugged Notebooks Inc. in Anaheim, Calif., a manufacturer of ruggedized laptop and notebook computers certified to MIL-STD-810D for shock, vibration, and other environmental extremes, as well as copper pipe-based internal cooling systems for laptops used in hot conditions.
Panasonic’s O’Hara echoes the importance of wireless communications for rugged notebooks. “We announced embedded wireless capabilities in the EVDL network and Cingular Edge Network,” she says. Panasonic also is integrating Global Positioning System (GPS) receivers and Bluetooth technology on many models. “Customers don’t have to buy a fully ruggedized unit. Semi-rugged is still 20 percent more reliable than commercial laptops.”
Click here to download a .PDF of COTS rugged laptop, notebook, and tablet computers