Rugged PCs and filtering screens

The Land Warrior and upcoming Ground Warrior systems are only part of General Dynamics’ rugged military electronics business. The company makes a range of components designed to support the high-performance 3-D battlespace management applications the military is building for its current force and the upcoming Future Combat Systems, said Tom O’Connor, program manager in General Dynamics’ Common Hardware Systems of the C4 Systems business area.

The company’s products include the Multiprocessor Ethernet Switched Combat Chassis, a box into which as many as seven workstations can be connected to an Ethernet switch. It has enough interfaces to plug in the displays of all the crew members of a Stryker or other vehicle, giving them all access to views produced by a high-performance computer located in a protected part of the vehicle.

General Dynamics also makes a version of a PC called a Commander’s Digital Assistant that provides voice communications, mapping and graphics capabilities to commanders in the field.

“What we’re trying to do on the hardware compute side is get as much size, weight and power out of a device as possible without sacrificing the compute power they need,” O’Connor said.

General Dynamics and other providers of ruggedized technology buy their components from the same companies that build motherboards, memory and CPUs for computers in the civilian world, but they repackage them in chassis designed to isolate the delicate components from dust, vibration and excessive heat. Some of the features developed for military PCs could have wider applicability.

For example, General Dynamics’ patent-pending DynaView is a polarization layer built into the screens of ruggedized handheld or laptop units. Rather than increasing the brightness of the screen so it can be seen in direct sunlight — thereby draining the batteries more quickly — DynaView reflects some ambient sunlight away from the screen and away from the user, making a dimmer, lower-power screen more visible in direct sunlight.

Other companies supply military hardware, too, including MPC Computers of Nampa, Idaho, which makes ruggedized laptops and other PCs. The military also uses Panasonic Toughbooks and laptop PCs from Kontron Mobile Computing, which designs devices for Humvees and other vehicles.

Itronix builds wireless laptops and handheld devices and provides specialized wireless communication and visual applications to display logistical information and troop movements in real time. Smartronix and MBM Technology also provide ruggedized laptops and other units to the military.

Most ruggedized units are designed to provide situational awareness and communications capabilities similar to those required in the Land Warrior and Ground Soldier systems but without the stiff requirement that they should be capable of being carried unobtrusively into combat for frontline troops to use during a firefight.

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