Mobile computing for the ultra-mobile

     Imagine attempting to find a secure place to store a full-size notebook computer along with all the rest of your gear in an already overcrowded motorcycle saddlebag. That's just the beginning of the challenge: Once you're on the road, imagine trying to pull the laptop out and find a comfortable, secure place to use it, as you attempt to run a vehicle or driver check and type up an incident report or e-ticket.

     Life is clearly different for officers who spend all day on motorcycles, bicycles, four wheelers, Jet Skis, horses or even Segways. With the goal of extending the benefits of mobile computing to these officers, some agencies have tried PDAs or Blackberry-type devices; however, this solution has proven to be less than ideal, as these devices offer limited functionality and require IT to support a completely different OS platform. While portable, such devices lack the applications provided by mobile data terminals such as automated dispatch, incident reporting, records management, mapping/routing, crime pattern data analysis, mobile digital video control/review, e-mail access, the ability to run background checks, evidence collation and tracking, e-ticketing/e-citations, and automated license plate recognition.

     In most police organizations, ultra-mobile officers have had to depend on their voice radio network and dispatch centers for real-time information and spend hours in the precinct office entering handwritten reports into the system. This puts them at a tactical disadvantage, decreases efficiency, keeps them out of the field where they are most needed, and places additional stress on already overworked dispatchers.

     Over the years, law enforcement technologists have been asking computer manufacturers for help in finding a way to deliver all the functionality and benefits of a full-size notebook to motorcycle patrols, bike patrols and other mobile units without impeding the functionality of non-traditional vehicles. Today, thanks to a push by the military to develop rugged ultra-mobile computers for frontline soldiers and special forces units, the law enforcement industry has a solution.

     Fully rugged ultra-mobile notebook computers, such as the GoBook MR-1 from General Dynamics Itronix, are equipped with all the computing power of traditional notebooks, yet are one quarter the size. Optimized for thumb typing, these devices are powerful enough to handle the numerous applications used in law enforcement. They have screens that are visible in full sunlight and are small enough to be mounted inside a saddlebag or on the front of motorcycle, bicycle or four wheelers. They can also be stored in a belt holster or vest pocket.

     These ultra-mobile notebooks can withstand just about anything Mother Nature throws at them, including driving rain, punishing 3-foot drops, extreme vibration, high and low temperatures, high humidity and dust. To ensure these products survive in the field, they are generally put through a series of tests developed by the U.S. Army to simulate real-world conditions. Key tests include:

  • Transit Drop (MIL STD-810F, Method 516.5, Procedure IV) ensures the unit can withstand accidental drops from 3 feet.
  • Operational Vibration (MIL STD, Method 514.5, Procedure I and ASTM 4169-99) tests that the unit will continue to work even when transported on the roughest of roads.
  • Waterproof (MIL STD 810F, Method 506.4, Procedure II) testing assures the unit can survive 4 hours in the rain.
  • Operating Temperature (MIL STD 810F, Method 502.4 and 501.4) ensures the unit will work in temperatures ranging from 140 degrees Fahrenheit to -30 F.
  • Dust ingress (IP5X) ensures that the unit will survive even when continually exposed to dusty and dirty roads.

     As agency IT professionals begin evaluating computing devices for mobile officers, they often find that many of the officers use multiple forms of transportation — working in a police cruiser one day and riding a horse or a motorcycle the next. Rather than purchasing both a full-size notebook and an ultra-mobile notebook for those officers, the IT teams are evaluating the feasibility of equipping all officers with the small form factor units.

     Standardizing on ultra-mobile notebooks simplifies deployment, provides workforce flexibility and reduces overall costs. To accomplish this, the IT teams equip the patrol cars with a cassette-style vehicle dock, a remote touchscreen display and a USB keyboard. These additions provide an optimized work space within the vehicle. No matter what vehicle they use, officers can have the same computer with them. When getting into a patrol car, the officer simply slips the ultra-mobile notebook into the docking station and uses a full-size keyboard or large touchscreen display.

     Ultra mobile products are clearly changing the game, maximizing efficiencies and improving overall law enforcement by providing full computing capabilities in a small, yet rugged portable device that can be deployed in any vehicle used in law enforcement.

     Tim Hill, product marketing manager for General Dynamics Itronix, has more than 20 years experience in both the telecommunications and rugged notebook computer markets.