While general-use mobile computing applications and hardware continue to evolve rapidly and are too numerous to review here, some recent updates to rugged laptop computers and associated software programs may offer civil engineers and surveyors productivity enhancements in the field. Following are new models, components, and programs that caught our attention.
ACME Portable Machines’ FLP-200 rugged portable computer is about the size of a fat attaché case and features an Intel T2500 2-GHz Core Duo processor backed by a minimum of 512 MB of memory (expandable to 2 GB). According to the company, it is ideal for applications such as testing, data logging, and video recording where the power and flexibility of a desktop is required. The FLP-200 provides two, full-length internal slots for 32-bit PCI cards and one mini-PCI connector. Dual lithium ion batteries provide a total of 100 watts of output power and 190 watt-hours of capacity—roughly three times the capacity of a conventional notebook—and are hot-swappable for continuous battery operation. The FLP-200 can also use 120v/220v power when available, and recharge its batteries while operating off wall power. A 100-GB hard drive is included and space is provided for an additional pair of hot-swappable RAID drives that size. The base system also includes a DVD-RW drive; Firewire, four USB 2.0 ports, and Ethernet connections; a full-size keyboard; and a 15-inch anti-glare LCD screen. The unit weighs 20 pounds with the standard, dual batteries.
GiveMePower Corporation offers two new ultra-mobile computing solutions for building surveying and inspection, construction area estimating and reporting, and facilities asset and information management. Centered on GiveMePower’s PowerCAD SiteMaster as-built floor planning, design, and facilities information management software, two Turn-On-and-Go solutions feature either Dell’s Axim X51v handheld PC or Tablet Kiosk’s eo Ultra Mobile PC as the mobile/handheld computing device, and Leica Geosystem’s DISTO A6 Bluetooth wireless laser to measure and instantly create AutoCAD-compatible drawings. Kits include all the software and hardware needed in a custom, high-impact carrying case.
Glacier Computer’s W130 rugged laptop, with 1.4-GHz processor speed, has a die-cast magnesium alloy casing, individually sealed ports, and a fan-less design for better weather sealing, all of which help earn it MIL-STD 810F certification. A touch-sensitive control pad and waterproof membrane keyboard are standard. The laptop has a 40-GB, shock-mounted hard disk drive; 60-, 80-, or 100-GB drives are optional, as are flash and removable hard drives. The 12.1-inch touchscreen color LCD display is available with an optional sunlight-readable upgrade. For communication, 10/100 Base-T-LAN; 56K V90 modem; and wireless 802.11B/G LAN are standard, and a wireless, GSM/GPRS modem is optional. The W130 weighs 6.2 pounds and is powered by a lithium-ion battery.
With its protective cases, OtterBox says engineers can take standard, off-the-shelf technology and make it completely rugged. OtterBox offers dust- and impact-resistant and waterproof cases for laptop PCs with screens as large as 15 inches, as well as for Treos, BlackBerrys, HP iPaqs, and PDAs. The laptop case allows users to plug the computer in without removing it from the case. Otterbox laptop cases can also be used to protect slates, tablets, ultra-mobile PCs, and convertible tablet PCs.
Panasonic Computer Solutions Company recently introduced two new rugged Panasonic Toughbook computers: The CF-19 convertible tablet PC, and the CF-30 clamshell notebook. These new Toughbooks have Intel Core Duo processors, additional security features, and optional embedded access to next-generation wireless data networks from all major cellular wireless carriers. In addition, the MIL-SPEC-certified notebooks incorporate daylight-readable screens, magnesium alloy cases, sealed keyboards and ports, flexible internal connectors, and shock-mounted screens and hard drives. According to the company, battery life is approximately six hours. Touch screens allow for ease of use with applications commonly used in field environments. Wireless options include WLAN, WWAN, GPS, and Bluetooth.
PhatWare Corporation released PhatPad 4.1 notes organizer for Microsoft Windows-based tablet, desktop, and Windows Mobile-powered pocket PCs. PhatPad allows users to draw pictures, jot notes, or put a mixture of pictures and typed text on a virtual scratch pad. According to the company, the program uses new digital ink technology, which provides a smooth ink flow that feels like writing on a piece of paper. While working with the note editor, PhatPad offers standard editing commands in addition to a customizable pen palette and variable pen width. The upgraded software now includes PhatPad viewer, which allows users to view PhatPad files on Microsoft Windows Mobile-based Smartphones. The PhatPad viewer is also available for Pocket PCs, which allows PhatPad users to share documents and drawings with Pocket PC and Smartphone users who do not have PhatPad. The application works on Pocket PCs running Windows Mobile 2003 or later and tablet, desktop, and ultra-mobile PCs with Windows 2000 SP3 or later.
SanDisk Corporation recently introduced a 32-GB, 2.5-inch solid-state drive (SSD) as a drop-in replacement for rotating hard disk drives. According to the company, notebooks equipped with a 2.5-inch SanDisk SSD can boot Microsoft Windows Vista Enterprise in as little as 30 seconds and access files at an average speed of 0.11 milliseconds. A notebook using a rotating hard disk requires an average 48 seconds to boot and an average 17 milliseconds to access files. SanDisk SSDs have minimal power requirements, with savings rated at greater than 50 percent compared with a hard disk drive, which conserves battery power in mobile applications. Additionally, because flash-based drives don’t need a motor, bearings, or a moving head mechanism, they generate less heat than hard disk drives.
Dell now offers SanDisk’s 1.8-inch, 32-GB solid state drive (SSD) on its Latitude D420 ultra-mobile and D620 ATG semi-rugged notebooks as an alternative to hard disk drives (HDD). According to the company, engineering tests show that the SSD has an operating shock tolerance as great as 1,300 Gs, which is twice the rating of mechanical drives; and the new drives can increase system performance by as much as 23 percent and decrease boot time by as much as 34 percent compared with traditional HDDs available with the Latitude D420 and D620 ATG.
SmartDraw.com released SmartDraw 2007 v8.1, which fully supports mobile computing on a tablet PC. According to the company, SmartDraw allows users to create professional-quality business graphics such as flowcharts, organizational charts, Gantt charts, timelines, and floorplans in minutes. With the stylus, a user can select and stamp appropriate shapes and draw lines onto the page, then annotate them with ink and handwritten words that can be converted automatically to typed text. Also with the new release, flowcharting is easier with SmartDraw’s auto-insert feature: Connector lines automatically redraw when objects are inserted or deleted within the chart. According to the company, the new Mind Mapping SmartPanel command set encourages "organized brainstorming," allowing users to add details and ideas to their mind maps with a click of a mouse.
TabletKiosk entered the rugged tablet PC market with introduction of the eo TufTab v7112XT. The company says it developed the TufTab line for professionals who require a more rugged solution for mobile computing needs, including protection from rain, dust, humidity, extreme temperatures, and vibration. The eo TufTab v7112XT, with an ultra-mobile PC form factor, is designed for touch screen applications, taking handwritten notes, entering data, and communicating over a wireless network. It features 802.11 b/g wireless LAN; Bluetooth 2.0; and a sunlight-viewable, 7-inch TFT LCD touch screen. For enhanced security, it also features an integrated biometric fingerprint reader. The eo TufTab v7112XT is powered by a 1.2-GHz processor and preloaded with a choice of Microsoft Windows Vista Business, Windows XP Tablet Edition, or SUSE Linux. It has 1.0 GB DDR2 SDRAM and a 40-GB, 1.8-inch hard drive. Other features include one USB 2.0 port, a headphone jack, and built-in stereo microphone and digital camera. It weighs 1.87 pounds.
Webalo’s Mobile Dashboard Service allows business reports, such as scorecards and dashboards, to be distributed in seconds to a mobile workforce using popular devices such as RIM Blackberry, Microsoft Windows Mobile, Palm Treo, and Java-enabled Smartphones. Dynamically generated reports preserve the look and feel of each device, and tailor themselves to work around limitations imposed by screen sizes. Webalo’s hosted service automatically transforms reports into device-specific applications that are delivered at administrator-defined times to mobile devices. Users can quickly find the needed data, online or offline, with a dynamic, highly configurable interface that is tailored to their specific device. The secure, IBM-hosted Mobile Dashboard service allows administrators working from a web browser in their office to set up mobile users quickly, and configure reports for distribution to them. Once set up, updated reports are simply e-mailed to the service, which immediately transforms them for distribution and delivers them to the devices.