May 2012 | Sponsored | Thought Leaders

Tracking Rugged Tablets

Tags: Logistics I.T., Warehousing

Chris Wright is Vice President, InfoMobility, DRS Technologies, 1-888-872-1100 | Twitter: @ARMORinfo

Q: It seems that tablet computers are growing in popularity. Is this true in our field, where conditions can be difficult?

A: Although the tablet has been available for years, it is receiving renewed attention for its combination of an easy-to-read display and keypad-free data entry and retrieval. Tablets offer several advantages over notebook computers and handheld devices. A standing worker can easily operate a tablet while holding it in one hand. Tablets are compact and take up less space. And they offer the display size that works best for mobile employees.

Q: Rugged tablets cost more than what consumers buy. Is this additional expense worth it?

A: You just can't take a regular tablet or even one labeled "ruggedized" and expect it to work in adverse environments where vibration, heat, cold, moisture, and other factors come into play. Selecting a computer that performs in rugged environments is cost-effective compared to trying to use off-the-shelf, non-rugged consumer hardware. One freight hauling company saw the failure rate of onboard computers reduced from 70 percent to three or four percent when they purchased rugged tablets. This means less out-of-service time and, of course, fewer replacement purchases. The most durable rugged tablets are designed, manufactured and qualified to pass MIL-STD-810F or -810G. These federal standards specify testing procedures that are designed to determine how equipment holds up under a variety of conditions, including temperature, impact, vibration, and humidity that the equipment may encounter while being used, transported, and stored.

Q: Should comparisons between computers be made solely on ruggedness?

A: No, there are other factors that must be considered. Chief among these is advanced communications. Today's mobile worker needs an array of communications tools, including access to broadband Internet, Wi-Fi service for local area networks including hot spots, Bluetooth connections for wireless connections to peripherals, and global positioning to aid in going from location to location. Other factors to consider include screen size and readability, especially in bright sun. A well-designed docking system allows the computer to be quickly and easily un-docked and placed in another vehicle. One additional consideration is automatic antenna switching. When a mobile tablet is brought into a vehicle, its communications functionality is likely to be compromised by the vehicle's metal construction and even by tinted glass. Manually switching between the antennas within the tablet and external ones on the roof can cause transmission delays or interruptions. Automatic switching eliminates the threat of data loss or disruption.