When Computers Get Tough

Rugged computers for the law enforcement officer

Like their more fragile cousins, ruggedized computers offer various forms of wireless communication (WiFi, Bluetooth and/or 802.11) and allow for the attachment of options, such as scanners, barcode readers, etc. They come with ratings which designate their ability to withstand temperature extremes, shock, drop, dust, liquids, vibration and other challenges. Look for those compliant to MIL-STD-810F and check out the IP ratings, which designate the degree of resistance to the intrusion of dust and liquids.

Some models are fully ruggedized; some are partially. Agencies should consider the stresses the equipment faces and match this to the job demands. They also should ask manufacturers to verify claims with proof of outside testing.

It's also a great idea to field test these systems, say both Athey and Timmer. "We took a vehicle that was being retired and used it as a test," says Timmer. "We then contacted several manufacturers and requested to test and evaluate the equipment. The vehicle would be sent out on patrol and an officer was required to complete a critique form as to how the equipment worked. I would highly recommend this for any agency in the market for computer equipment." Be sure to test the display in direct sunlight, glare, nighttime and extreme viewing angles, suggests Athey.

Deputy Steve Sprague, with the Bexar County Sheriff's Office in San Antonio, Texas, agrees one of the best things to do is go right to the source — patrol officers (of course, not leaving out fleet operations and the IT staff).

"The patrol officers themselves are invaluable in providing information on real-world use of items installed in their cars," he says. "Too many times, departments overlook this valuable pool of information in favor of using higher-rank officers who may not necessarily use the equipment they are asked to assist in purchasing for others."

Here's a closer look at some of the ruggedized systems available to law enforcement agencies.

AMREL/American Reliance. Headquartered in El Monte, California, this company manufactures (among other rugged systems) the Rocky Mobile, a three-piece, fixed-mount (and airbag-friendly) rugged computer system ergonomically designed with tight cabin space in mind, says Visnjevic. (It also offers a smaller version of this system, the Rocky Mobile Jr., for agencies that face even greater space restrictions. This version, which has all the features of the larger, can fit into the glove compartment.)

The Rocky Mobile offers a resistive touchscreen that works with or without gloved hands. This LCD display has a reading of more than 1,300 nits, and also comes with a single button screen blackout and night dimming features. The system has two true serial ports (four optional), which Visnjevic describes as important for private radio system use. Wireless capabilities/options include GPRS, Bluetooth and/or 802.11.

The design is compliant to MIL-STD-810F and IP54 for temperature extremes, shock, vibration, humidity, water and dust. The system is constructed to withstand the harsh environments that confront law enforcement users, such as collisions, high-speed pursuits, accidental spills from liquids and dust, says Visnjevic.

DAP Technologies (a subsidiary of Roper Industries). Among other products, this Quebec City, Canada-based company (North American headquarters are in Duluth, Georgia) manufactures the Microflex CE3240, a rugged handheld mobile computer. A new version of this is the CE3240B, says Benoit Masson, director of marketing. For awhile, the two products will co-exist and both will be available on DAP's Web site.

The B version uses an Intel XScale PXA270 microprocessor, and has a 520-MHz processing speed with 128 MB of flash storage and 128 MB of static RAM. Users can choose between a wireless (containing WiFi or 802.11g and Bluetooth) and a non-wireless model. It's also possible to add interfaces that will allow for use of a commercially available WiFi card or a card that enables communication over other wireless networks.

The rugged handheld has a 3.5-inch VGA color touchscreen, 22-key numeric keypad and rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that have a life of two to four working days, says Masson. This device is compliant to MIL-STD-810F for shock, drop and temperature (can withstand temperatures ranging from -4 degrees Fahrenheit (F) to 122 F) and carries an IP65 rating, which means, says Masson, that it is completely dustproof. Although it cannot withstand immersion in water/liquid, it can handle spraying water, such as rain.

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