Tough Love –5 things to look for in a truly ruggedised mobile computing device

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Emergency Services, Defence, Field Services, Telecoms and Utilities workers need their IT equipment to stand up to the rigours of tough work in a tough environment. But just what do we mean when we say ‘ruggedised’? Panasonic are the acknowledged leaders in the field of mobile rugged technology and based on what I see in their Toughbook and Toughpad products, here are my top 5 things to look for in a device that can take on just about any workload:

All weather usage

Field workers must get the job done whatever the elements throw at them, so their mobile device needs to be able to do the same. Resistance to rain is certainly something to look for, but good weather can be as difficult as bad, with bright sunlight making many screens unreadable. A truly ruggedised, built-for-the outdoors device will take this into account with screens visible even on the brightest day. Extreme heat and cold can be two of the biggest enemies of effective performance (not forgetting that temperatures inside a service vehicle can be very high) so the ability to operate from well below freezing point to the temperatures over 50˚C is essential.

Touch screen technology

Mobile devices all offer touch screens, but it’s important to look at the type of technology used. Consumer devices tend to use projected capacitive touch, which needs skin contact to register a change in capacitance, and cannot therefore be used with gloved fingers or a stylus. Many field workers will wear protective clothing, especially gloves so it is important to look for devices that use technology that works with these as well as skin contact.

Battery life

Battery life – this is a feature of ruggedised computing that is often overlooked. Without power, the best and toughest device in the world becomes a lifeless brick. Field workers often work long shifts, with no access to power, so long battery life is essential. Some devices now have batteries that last longer than a standard shift, with up to 14 hours life with continuous data access. But of course, in some field roles, shifts are anything but standard, so the second thing to look for is extended battery life with a dual, hot-swap option. 

Flexible usage modes

A mobile field worker usually won’t have the luxury of more than one device, so look for devices with the flexibility to be used in different ways: as a notebook, with keyboard and connected devices (think barcode reader, smartcard reader, fingerprint reader, printer), as a tablet/phone with dual sim capability, mounted in a vehicle or integrated into a case.

Extensive testing

A truly ruggedised device being used in the field needs to be immune to the vibrations of movement and ideally to the occasional accidental drop. It’s really important to look for thorough testing, with a regime that includes tests for drop and shock, liquid resistance, vibrations, particle resistance, EMI and EMC testing, temperature, pressure, humidity, IP liquid and dust tests, hazardous location and wireless testing.

Rugged computing is so much more than drop tests and spill resistance – true ruggedised systems like Panasonic include all of the above, to get the job done in tough conditions.

By George Piesnik (Ruggedised Computing specialist at Sektor). Click here to see the latest range of Panasonic Toughpad devices: