Whether they work up north in the snow, or down south in the heat, law enforcement officers perform their duties in a variety of conditions. They are mobile, and need the latest technology to do their jobs well. Gone are the days of paper and pencil. Gone even are the days of a hard-mounted computer and a separate PDA. Companies have merged the accessories officers use, made them more durable and transformed the law enforcement community. With the unveiling of the Apple iPad, public safety consumers are looking at the reality of tablet computers, especially those in the rugged category.
About two years ago, Stockton (Calif.) police department adopted tablet computers. A department of 360 officers, currently, they have 34 tablets in use. The department chose the Getac V100. “We looked at quite a few options before deciding,”says George Longacre, Stockton PD Technology Support Specialist. “We’ve always used Getac. I like them. They allow us to do more with the computer system in the car. They also have uses outside patrol cars –Motor officers can use them. You can use them at DUI checkpoints. You can take them out of the cars. It is more mobile and more versatile.”
Like most technology, there are variations within the mobile market. Two common forms are the convertible notebooks and tablets. Convertible notebooks can be used as a laptop and placed in a fixed mount. When taken out, the screen flips and rests in the keyboard tray. “It can operate as a normal laptop or a tablet,” explains John Lamb, Director of Marketing at Getac. “It can be mounted without interfering with the airbag. It can have a keyboard and then be removed from the docking to be used as a tablet.” Tablets, also know as slates, are a one-piece unit that can be docked in a patrol car. “We think tablets serve a combination of the best of the larger size notebooks and smaller, more rugged PDAs,” says Dale Kyle, president of Handheld US, which makes the Algiz 7 Rugged Tablet available April. “They have the power, computing speed and data storage of the notebook but are more mobile.” Both convertible notebooks and tablets show great potential in the law enforcement field and offer a myriad of benefits.
The best of all worlds: Features
Convertible notebooks and tablets offer some of the best processors, such as the Intel Atom, which leads to a reduction in heat. Most provide specifications similar to laptops. “Anything to help them do their job better and more efficiently,” says Steve Gilbert, business development manager at Dell Rugged Computing, maker of the Latitude XT2 XFR Tablet. Tablets geared towards public safety were designed to offer all the features of a notebook with the mobility of a tablet. Standard features and options include: Bluetooth, Gobi2000, GPS, barcode readers, camera with LED illuminators, RFID reader, Fingerprint reader and a SmartCard reader.
Tablets are compatible with most software and utilize Microsoft base operating systems. “Because they run on Microsoft, these units are semi-intuitive,” says Kyle. “You can navigate through the features pretty easily if you’re familiar with Microsoft.” These new tablets no longer need a special version of the software.
When designing rugged computers for the field, companies recognized many duties are performed outside the patrol car. They also acknowledged the variety of environments officers work in, and the differences in their modes of travel. Being away from an energy source was one of the challenges manufacturers faced. They met this obstacle by designing dual hot-swappable batteries.
“You can use it outdoors and in any environment,” explains David Poulin, Senior Business Development Manager at Panasonic (PSCS) in reference to their Toughbook H1 Field, which comes out early this summer. “The battery allows it to last. It’s usable for all those people because they don’t have to be tethered to a charger. The battery life is six hours, and the two batteries are hot-swappable. If you never wanted to cradle this thing you could just be charging a battery and swap them. It’s extremely practical for the hours they put in.”