Tablet PCs get ready for the front lines

New series of rugged devices have much in common with consumer products

Panasonic's Toughbook U1 is one of a growing number of tablet computers that have met the Defense Department's Mil-Std 810G standards. Testing for 810G compliance includes surviving 26 drops from a height of 3 feet, hot and cold temperatures, and shock testing.

Some of those new rugged tablets have more in common with consumer smart phones or the Apple iPad than they do with the laptop computers that previously dominated rugged computing equipment. At the other end of the spectrum, vendors are making full-powered PCs that also can convert into a tablet.

Here are two other rugged mobile devices that are suited for applications similar to the Panasonic U1.

The General Dynamics Itronix GD300. Designed as a wearable computer, General Dynamics' latest rugged computing device runs Google's Android operating system, which is based on a Linux kernel. The Itronix weighs less than 8 ounces, and warfighters can wear it on their uniform. It uses an ARM processor, has 256M of memory and an 8G on board Flash memory drive, and can accept microSD cards for expanded storage.

The GD300 gives users access to the Global Positioning System with a highly sensitive antenna and a 3.5-inch touch screen on a rugged device that warfighters could strap to their wrists. It also can connect to tactical radios, such as the AN/PRC-154 Rifleman Radio, or other communications devices for secure network communications in the field.

Like Android-based phones, the GD300 supports commercial stand-alone applications or military applications for the Android operating system, such as the Tactical Ground Reporting System, a tactical intelligence collection and access application that warfighters use in Afghanistan.

The Dell XT2 XFR Tablet PC. The XT2 is on the other end of the spectrum of rugged, tablet computers. It also has a full-function keyboard, and the XT2’s screen can rotate into a tablet configuration or remain in a standard laptop PC setup.

The 5.4-pound system has a 12-inch touch-screen display, and it can be configured with as much as 5G of RAM, a hard disk as large as 160G and a solid-state drive as large as 128G. The tablet also offers a selection of optical drives, including CD and DVD writer drives. The system is powered by a 64-bit Intel Core Duo processor.

Because it's a full-fledged 64-bit Intel PC, the XT2 can do a lot more than most other rugged tablets can handle. It can be set up with a smart-card reader for Common Access Card integration, has a wide array of wireless networking options, and also features integrated Gigabit Ethernet. However, it lacks features such as an integrated GPS system and is less portable than some of the other devices in this class. It does have a standard serial port and also a number of other interfaces, so it can connect with a variety of communications and sensor gear.

About the Author

Sean Gallagher is senior contributing editor for Defense Systems.

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