New Trend: Disposable Computing?

Mil-aero organizations the world over are investigating, and even already adopting, non-ruggedized, commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computing and communications devices, including Apple’s popular iPad. It’s appealing: sleek, slim, compact, shiny. All good things. What it is not, not yet anyway, is rugged enough to withstand military and aerospace environments, missions, and applications.

Some may recall that in the not-too-distant past, the US Department of Defense (DoD) purchased and dropped by the pallet-load commercial laptops in overseas military locations. These mobile computers were not rugged. They were not sealed. Their screens were not sunlight-readable, and internal components were not well secured to absorb shock and vibration. They were commercially available and came right off the shelf (hence, commercial off-the-shelf); it was the same brand and model you or I might buy from a brick-and-mortar or online electronics store.

Soldiers would pick one up, use it for a bit, and then throw it away when the electronics couldn’t withstand a drop, the hot/cold temperature or extreme temperature variations, shock and vibe, or fine, desert sand. Then they’d reach for another and repeat the process. Taxpayers were outraged and, truth be told, soldiers were none too pleased either.

What mil standard test is this again?

What mil standard test is this again?

The DoD and industry listened, and responded with some powerful, low-power, low-heat, fully rugged and sealed handheld and laptop computers designed specifically to withstand the rigors of mil-aero environments and use. They are incredible—I’ve poured liquid on them, submersed them in water and mud, dropped and thrown them from heights, and seen them runover (I wasn’t behind the wheel)—and they started up and ran fine. What they aren’t often considered is sexy, at least not by today’s standards.

Military personnel, even high-level officials, are drawn to the iPad and various smartphones/tablets running Android. Who can blame them? Unless, of course, these commercial devices jeopardize missions, safety, and lives. iPad-related security breaches have made headline news, and exposed military official’s information; the FBI is still investigating one particular incident that happened in June. Consumers are complaining about wifi/antenna issues, unresponsiveness after a short period of use, overheating and other safety issues, and more—these same consumer frustrations could lend to mission failure or soldier mortality on the battlefield.

This geek thinks the costs are too high, and would rather wait for a rugged tablet running Android. Many mil/aero-minded software developers prefer Android now, anyway. Do you?

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Posted December 22nd, 2010, by

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About J. VanDomelen Mil/Aero Blog

J. VanDomelen holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and myriad certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTia in varying facets of computer software, hardware, and network design and implementation. He has worked in the electronics industry for more than 12 years in varied fields, including advanced systems design of highly technical military and aerospace computer systems, semiconductor manufacturing, open source software development, hardware design, and rapid prototyping. J. VanDomelen Mil/Aero Blog

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[...] 2010, the Department of the Army (U.S.) issued solicitation W9124D10IPADS for the purchase of 587 Apple iPads prepared to the following specification: “Item shall be equal to the salient characteristics of [...]

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