Magazine Article | August 24, 2006

Rugged Laptops In The Field Reduce Device Repair Expenses

Source: Field Technologies Magazine
Integrated Solutions, Annual Resource Guide To Wireless & Mobility Solutions

Major Steven Williams, technology/communications section commander for the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP), was recently responsible for upgrading the FHP’s mobile computing system. The organization’s 1,800 state troopers use the system to prepare and file reports, access criminal records, and research drivers’ licenses in the field. The FHP has installed consumer-grade laptops in vehicles for troopers since 2001, and while the laptops worked fine initially, they frequently experienced failure due to the extreme heat and moisture of Florida and vehicle vibration. Major Williams found that, on average, the laptops were replaced every two years and required repairs every couple of months.

Connectivity was also a problem with the existing mobile solution. To contact the station and dispatcher, troopers had to access the FHP’s broadband provider’s network via a wireless network interface card (NIC) plugged into an antenna in the trunk. When troopers were outside of the car, they switched the NIC to a mobile antenna. Each time a trooper switched antennas, he would temporarily lose connection to the network, increasing risks to officer safety and impeding communications with commanding officers. The FHP needed a mobile computing solution that allowed its troopers to have continuous network access, whether working in the vehicle or outside it.

Major Williams evaluated several mobile computing solutions and ultimately chose the Itronix GoBook III rugged, wireless laptop (branded as the HP Nr3610). The rugged laptop is designed to withstand extreme heat and cold, as well as vibration. The GoBook includes integrated GPS (global positioning system), WLAN (wireless LAN), WWAN (wireless WAN), and Bluetooth wireless radios. The troopers use the WWAN radio to access Cingular’s EDGE (enhanced data rates for global evolution) network and the WLAN radio to access Wi-Fi networks installed at FHP stations. The dual radios enable officers to automatically connect to the preferred networks transparently while they’re working and without disrupting connections.

The FHP also relies on the integrated GPS receiver.  GPS technology allows troopers to know the exact locations of their fellow troopers and also keeps the station abreast of their whereabouts, which is especially important in an emergency. If a trooper finds himself in a threatening situation, he can easily press an emergency button on his portable radio, and the station is notified of the officer’s location through a computer-aided dispatch system in the car using GPS.

“With the new laptops, we have the right devices for this environment,” says Williams. “We expect them to last about five years, compared to the two-year life span of our previous computers. In fact, two weeks after we deployed the new laptops, we had a trooper leave one on his car trunk and drive off.  We recovered it, did a minor case repair, and it is working today. We lost 10 of the previous devices when they fell off car trunks.”