Computers continue to get physically smaller, more energy efficient, and cheaper while their capabilities—processing performance and I/O feature set—advance. This means the barriers to putting a computer into an environment once considered out of bounds, either due to sheer cost or the fact that a desktop tower just won’t fit under a driver’s seat, are being diminished. We’ve come a long way, and so have our customers. It’s always fascinating to hear the unique application challenges our clients overcome, just to automate a once-manual process, streamline customer transactions, or bring technology to the far corners of the world. We are entering the age of “ubiquitous computing,” where technology becomes embedded into our daily routines, not a separate event we experience at our desks. But are these computers able to handle the physical strain these new environments place on hardware?
We’ve seen computers mounted behind an LCD panel array in an airport, tucked into a cabinet on the factory floor, installed under the car seat in a taxi cab, or integrated into an outdoor point-of-service kiosk. These devices enable people to get information quickly, make a payment faster, or input data effortlessly. They are also placed into environments that are inhospitable to computer hardware. I’m not talking about the general wear-and-tear a typical desktop receives in a house of three cats, a ten-year-old boy, and an end-user who has a bad habit of drinking wine at the computer. Metal filings, icky liquids, mud, heat, cold, multiple operators, and unpredictable power situations pose quite the challenge to maintaining a properly functioning computer over time.
There are many considerations to be made when selecting hardware for one of these more “extreme environments.” The advancements in technology, standardization of hardware, and reduced up-front costs make it logical to choose off-the-shelf components instead of opting to take the proprietary development route. However, more often than not, these commercial systems are simply not designed to encounter harsh conditions and need to be modified or housed in a more durable, temperature-controlled enclosure to ensure continuous operation. Once a computer gets mounted 20 feet off the ground or installed within a moving vehicle, it becomes costly to make service calls to replace failed components. This hybrid-approach solution is certainly better than opting for a ruggedized laptop, which can grow legs and be carted off by accident (or worse, on purpose) or opting for systems that have a life-time of 1-2 years, and then replacing the units as they breakdown.
The demand for off-the-shelf systems that can withstand wide temperature ranges, automotive power scenarios, shock and vibration, as well as the damaging effects from dust, dirt, and grease has grown dramatically in the past few years. We’ve been expanding our product line to include ruggedized systems to meet the requirements listed above. These are off-the-shelf units, but don’t let that fool you into thinking they are in any way commercial solutions. These systems can withstand the extreme aspects of harsh environments as standalone units. And more importantly, they are designed for 24-7 operation over extended periods of time. Bonus: they can be ordered online for quick prototyping.
Ruggedized System Options
The AU110 and PT110 Fanless Systems are low-profile, I/O-rich devices designed around the Intel Atom N270 processor and 945GSE chipset. Ideal for logistics, data collection and measurement, industrial control, and remote monitoring their features include:
- 1x DVI-D port
- 1x VGA port
- 3x Audio jacks
- 2x LAN ports
- 6x USB 2.0 ports
- 2x RS-232/422/485 ports (uses RJ45 connectors)
- 1x RS-232 port (uses RJ45 connector)
- 1x Phoenix power connector
- CF type II slot, externally accessible
- PCIe Mini Card slot for optional Wi-fi/Bluetooth
- DC 10~28 V wide input power
They both come standard with 1 GB pre-installed wide temp memory and can be configured with a 2.5″ SATA HDD or SSD. The PT110 comes with a full accessory pack to include converter cables, mounting plate and AC adapter. The AU110 is more à la carte style and has a -20°C to 70°C temp range opposed to the -40°C to 70°C range the PT110 offers.
The powerhouse options lie within our AU910, AU912, and PT912 systems. These are fanless units with a wide operating temperature range and feature Intel Core i5/i7 Mobile Arrandale processors. All three offer PCI Express expansion below the motherboard, helping to reduce the overall footprint of the system. The AU912 and PT912 have PCI Express x16 and x1 expansion and include riser cards already mounted internally. The Au910 offers PCI Express x8 expansion and also includes a riser card. Ideal for fleet management, data collection, automation and industrial control, digital signage, and remote monitoring, their features include:
- 1x DVI-D port (or Digital I/O or Parallel)
- 1x VGA port
- 1x DisplayPort
- 2x RS-232 ports (via DB-44 connector and break-out cable)
- 2x RS-232/422/485 ports (via DB-44 connector and break-out cable)
- 2x LAN ports
- 8x USB 2.0 ports
- 2x Audio jacks: line-out, and mic-in
- 1 PS2 mouse/keyboard port
- 1x CFast card slot
- 1x SIM card slot
- 1x 4-pin Phoenix power connector (with remote power switch function)
Similar to the Intel Atom options above, the PT series will offer the complete package: mounting, AC adapter, cables, etc. It will also have the widest operating temperature range of -40°C ~ 70°C, while the AU series will be -20°C ~ 55°C.
For automotive environments, the AU131 offers the wide operating temperature range, shock and vibration resilience, and fanless design as the other ruggedized systems discussed here, and it provides the automotive intelligence to integrate with a vehicle’s power source. It is designed around the Intel Atom D525 dual core processor and ICH8M chipset and is ideal for fleet management, surveillance, long haul trucking, and mobile data acquisition. The AU131 features include:
- 2x USB 2.0 ports
- 2x USB 2.0 waterproof LTE connectors (for 4 USB ports; cables are available as drop-down options on the site)
- 2x VGA ports
- 1x DB-26 connector for LVDS (18-/24-bit, dual channel)
- 1x Digital I/O connector (16-bit)
- 2x RS-232 ports
- 2x RS-232/422/485 ports
- 1x LAN port
- 2x Audio jacks: line-out, mic-in
- 2x DC Output jacks with lockable connectors, 12 V
- 1x CF slot
- 1x SIM card slot
- 1x SD card slot
- 4x Antenna jack punch-outs
- 2x Power Setting DIP Switches
- 3-pin terminal block power connector
- FUSE receptacle with cover
This unit is extremely feature rich and specifically designed for use in automotive environments.
There are many options available when deciding what hardware to use for an application. What should be considered is how it fits in terms of features, space, and budget. In order to realize the concept of “ubiquitous computing,” there first needs to be the drive to liberate the computer from the desktop space, making it become intertwined with our day-to-day activities. After that, deciding what that computer should look like and how it should integrate with that space is next. This is where Logic Supply comes in. Our expanding line of Ruggedized Systems offer greater flexibility when selecting the right hardware for installation into new and unpredictable environments.