Video firm turns to outside ruggedizers

ROCKVILLE, Md. - Leaders of the American marketing affiliate of an Italian producer of commercial video conferencing equipment are turning to two U.S. "ruggedizers" to repackage their equipment for battlefield use.

Mar 1st, 1998

Video firm turns to outside `ruggedizers`

By John Rhea

ROCKVILLE, Md. - Leaders of the American marketing affiliate of an Italian producer of commercial video conferencing equipment are turning to two U.S. "ruggedizers" to repackage their equipment for battlefield use.

This ruggedized videoconference equipment is to be part of an interoperable system to bring video to tactical commanders.

Officials of USA FutureTech in Rockville, Md., have begun shipping evaluation units for use in simulation and training to USACOM in Norfolk, Va. - the joint services command (including NATO).

These are commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) units for use in an essentially office environment, but if they win acceptance in these tests, the next step is to ruggedize them and deploy them to the field.

FutureTech experts normally supply their briefcase-sized units from the Italian supplier, Aethra, to U.S. federal government users through the General Services Administration (GSA) schedule.

Rather than trying to create their own line of rugged off-the-shelf units, USA FutureTech officials turned to two independent suppliers - Solaris Systems in Anaheim, Calif., and Peripheral Equipment Corp. in Simi Valley, Calif.

Solaris and Peripheral Equipment are supplying the cases that FutureTech integrators need to shield the units from shock, vibration, humidity, and temperature extremes, says Billy Wayne Dunlap, FutureTech`s vice president for sales and marketing.

FutureTech`s video conferencing technology itself is standard: 6-inch active matrix liquid crystal displays, quarter-inch charge-coupled device optics for the camera, 56-to-384-kilobits-per-second data rate, and European DSSI and the domestic ISDN interfaces.

The rugged-off-the-shelf versions have an additional board and software to run secure military communications via RS 449 and V.35, including satellite communications.

The ruggedization process adds about 4.5 pounds to the unit`s basic weight of 14 pounds, but that is still within the footprint required for use on board a Navy ship or on an Army Humvee. Although this is not a PC-based system, it can interface with personal computers.

By farming out the ruggedization part of the job to two competing suppliers, USA FutureTech officials have been able to contain costs while helping users take advantage of new technology as it becomes available. The commercial version of the units, named Voyager, cost about $12,000, and the price to government customers on the GSA schedule starts at around $9,000.

By using a COTS approach, company officials are targeting the ruggedized version for the military at $15,000 to $18,000 when volume shipments begin. Dunlap estimates that building the units to full mil specs would raise the price to the military customers to at least $35,000.

Ruggedization involves reinforcing and supporting the boards within the unit to mitigate shock and vibration. A unit can be dropped three or four feet, and it will keep on working, Dunlap says .

Also, in order to be shipped by cargo aircraft, the unit must survive altitudes from 15,000 to 40,000 feet, although not while operating. The temperature spec is 0 to 50 degrees Celsius while operating, and -40 to 60 C in the non-operational mode. The humidity spec is 5 to 95 percent relative humidity.

Designers will use the same packaging techniques in a laptop model due to be introduced later this year with a CD-ROM and removable hard drives.

In each case, the goal is to achieve interoperability among services and with allies, on the battlefield, and back at headquarters. Defense officials are planning to use these units also for non-battlefield videoconferencing applications such as telemedicine and distance learning.

More in Home