Military tablet computers have operational requirements far more stringent than those of most consumers or professions. From the harshest environments in the field to the most stringent security, what follows are the key features needed in rugged military tablet computers.
Rugged tablet computer devices must be able to do the tasks for which they were designed while performing reliably in the harshest conditions. This can include extreme hot and cold temperatures, as well as wet or dusty environments, while also standing up to prolonged vibrations, jolts, and drops. Such devices must be easily viewed in direct sunlight as well as in complete darkness. They must be useable with gloved hands. The internal components need to be as durable as the unit’s outer housing – and with vitally important security proprieties.
To meet the requirements for military applications the design and construction of military tablets require the following features:
- The electronic components must be rated for wide temperature ranges, typically -40˚C to 85˚C (consumer grade devices usually use components rated between 0˚C and 50˚C). In some environments, conformal coating of assembled circuit boards and/or potting of specific components is required for shock/vibration resistance as well as to prevent corrosion caused by high humidity.
- Durable housings must be strong enough to withstand shocks, jolts, drops, and prolonged vibration. The device must also be impervious to incursion by dust, dirt, water and other liquids, or any contaminant.
- Displays must be readable and usable in direct sunlight as well as complete darkness. High brightness backlights or transflective displays allow a user to read to display through direct sun glare. To avoid detection in dark conditions, the display must be dimmable to very low light levels. Both of these extreme lighting uses require customized displays.
- Gloved hands must be able to operate the device. Conventional capacitive touchscreens used in consumer tablets often are unable to sense a touch through thick gloves, which may also be unable to press small buttons. Military tablets typically use resistive or modified capacitive touchscreens and large buttons to overcome these hurdles.
- Military-specific interfaces often must be seamlessly incorporated, such as military band radios, anti-spoofing GPS modules, joysticks to control remote vehicles, specific connectors that allow interfacing to other devices, and more.
In addition to hardware features, military grade tablets must provide enhanced security. Considerations include:
- Operating systems must be configured to manage user and application access while preventing unintended operation. Security enhanced versions of Android and Linux provide a set of policies that define user and application access.
- Data encryption and the use of encryption keys enables the protection of critical data and application code stored within the tablet.
Physical tamper detection mechanisms embedded within the tablet can sense attempts to open the device or to otherwise access it in unpermitted ways, and then take steps to secure the device and its data, such as by erasing encryption keys or locking down operation.
The above considerations often require the design and production of a custom tablet. Repackaging a consumer grade tablet often falls short; such solutions often do not survive in the field, are less secure, and can’t be produced for long periods of time.
It is critical for the designer of a rugged military tablet to understand the design of portable devices at the system level to manage the electronics design, operating system configuration, rugged enclosure construction, thermal management of heat trapped within the device, display and touchscreen customization, device security, device test and certification, robust manufacturing processes, and supply chain to keep production going. While specific requirements may differ, these considerations are critical for the design of tablets and portable devices used in other fields, including medicine, industrial instrumentation, energy, construction, factory, and field repair.
InHand Electronics specializes in custom-designed circuitry specific to original equipment manufacturers and the clients they serve. If you’re an OEM that is planning the next military rugged tablet – or any type of portable, handheld electronic computing device – contact InHand Electronics for a free evaluation of your requirements and a quote to implement.