The Next Big Thing for Rugged Computers

Since AMREL customizes most of the products we sell, we pay pretty close attention to what our customers want. While we do not claim to be prophets, we have noticed certain trends when we discuss computing solutions with our clients. Here is what we think will be “The Next Big Things” for rugged computers.

Big displays/ Small form factors
We get a lot of inquires about the RF10, the only rugged laptop that has a 17” display. Same thing about our DK10 tablet that has a 12” display. Maybe it’s the popularity of mapping applications or maybe everyone is aging and getting poor eyesight. Whatever the reason, people want BIG screens.

At the same time, they want smaller form factors. People are using tablets for tasks that once required laptops, and are using handhelds for applications that once needed tablets. Please call us if you know how to put a 17” display on a smartphone.

ARM race
One key to the popularity of smaller from factors are ARM processors. While more limited in their ability to support full computer functions, they use less energy than traditional processors (such as Intel).

To get around the limitation of ARM processors, computing solutions have adopted “fat server/thin client” model. Computing functions are off-loaded to the cloud. You no longer need a powerful desktop computer to download your email. When your email is cloud based, a simple low powered smartphone can easily check it.

My smartphone, my trash
A consequence of the preference for ARM- based small form factors is that hardware is cheaper and more disposable. If your desktop computer is destroyed, you have not only lost an expensive piece of equipment, but also a lot of valuable data as well. If your smartphone gets trashed, it’s less expensive to replace, and your data lives on in the cloud.

Considering disposability is one of its main attractions, a smartphone that is also rugged may sound like a contradiction in terms. Even if it is relatively cheap to replace, a broken smartphone is still a time waster and a general pain in the rear end. So, we are getting many requests for durable handheld computers. In addition to the DB6, DF6 and our other established small platforms, we plan to soon launch a new line of super-tough handhelds.

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Android rules, but mobile Windows is not dead yet
Android OS is clearly on the rise. Interestingly, this has not slowed down inquires to AMREL for Windows CE-based platforms. Institutions with legacy applications haven’t jumped on the Android bandwagon yet. While continuing to support mobile Windows OS, we plan to dramatically expand our Android offerings in the near future.

Attack of the super-thin computers
As you probably noticed, thin is in. Leaf through any computer magazine, and you will see ads boasting of their slim platforms. While this is primarily a phenomenon of consumer electronics, even the rarefied world of rugged platforms has been affected by “computer anorexia.”

Never one to pass up a good trend, AMREL offers:
• RS11 – With a 13” display, it’s the thinnest rugged laptop in the world
• DB6 – The super lightweight handheld
• RV11 – It is the thinnest rugged laptop with a 15” display on the market

This year we plan to offer a rugged tablet so thin you can cut cheese with it. Well, maybe not that thin, but still…

COTS, COTS, and more COTS
Classify this trend as “more of the same.” One of the biggest consumers of rugged platforms is the US Department of Defense (DOD). They have been COTS obsessed for years, and there is no sign of this mania letting up. COTS products are supposedly cheaper, have better supply lines, and the DOD doesn’t have to worry about keeping their production capabilities alive in times of low demand.

Of course the DOD still hasn’t lost its taste for highly specific requirements. This has led to the phenomena of “Customized COTS,” i.e. off-the-shelf products that can be easily modified. For almost 30 years, AMREL has pioneered “Customized COTS” and continues to be a leader in this field.

Quick & inexpensive prototyping
Incorporating end-user feedback for rugged solutions has always been problematic. With the pace of technological change rapidly accelerating and the increasing uncertainty surrounding possible future wars, adaptability has become ever more critical. Rugged solutions must be designed to be easily and inexpensively modifiable. Since customization is one of AMREL’s core capabilities, we feel very confident in meeting this challenge.

What do you think?
The above list is not be meant to be exhaustive, but just an informal collection of our impressions. What is your vision of the future of rugged computers? Send your thoughts to

Learn more about AMREL’s offerings at

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10 Things You Need to Know about Night Vision

Do you need a computer that is night vision compatible? Before you buy, you should know the answers to these 10 questions.

What is a night vision compatible computer?
Night vision compatible computers do NOT possess the capabilities of night vision goggles. They do NOT allow you to see in the dark. Instead they restrict their emission of light, in order to prevent interference with or detection by night vision goggles.

Who needs a night vision compatible computer?
Generally, there are two classes of people who need night vision compatible computers: aviation crews and military ground troops, especially Special Forces. Ground forces use computers with decreased light emissions to avoid detection by the enemy. Airplane crews need computers whose light emissions are restricted, so they don’t blind a nearby pilot who is using night vision goggles.

Are there differences between night vision compatible computers used by aviation crews and those used by Special Forces?
Yes. Filters used to suppress the transmission of light have different level of strength. AMREL’s off-the-shelf night vision solutions use filters that permit light transmission of 2.5%, which is a commonly requested level (alternative filter ranges are available by request). Special Forces requirements can go as low as 1%. Aviation standards (MIL-STD 3009) are not as strict and permit 20% transmission.

One reason there are differences between the two types of night vision compatible computers is that they are used differently. A pilot will use his night vision goggles to fly, but will switch to using his naked eye when viewing instrumentation within the cockpit. On the other hand, a soldier on the ground will use his night vision goggles to view nearby objects as well as ones in the distance.

Another difference is that aviators prefer their night vision to have an anti-glare surface. Ground troops on the other hand do not care.

Sometimes, the markets overlap; Special Forces in airplanes will use computers with night vision solutions to avoid blinding the pilot who is using goggles to fly.

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What is “black background”?
Some Naval applications demand that that night vision compatible equipment emit zero radiation when they are turned off. The requirement for this specification is called “black background.” This leads to stricter requirements than is found in aviation applications.

Can night vision compatible computers have a workable touch screen?
Yes. The filter can diminished the effectiveness of the touch screen slightly, but most people do not notice this.

Why is the suppression of infrared range emissions important?
Night visions goggles use infrared (IR) range. Therefore, night vision filters must suppress light transmitting in that range, so that an enemy using night visions goggles cannot see their computer. Sometimes, you will see phrases about night vision compatible computers, such as “…. reduces your infrared signature.”

Consider the following graph used by Cevians, LLC (formerly a division of Wamco Inc.), an industry leading supplier of filters, to illustrate the suppressive properties of one of their products. Infrared starts at about 700 nm, so this graph shows zero transmission in that range.

nightvision graph


What is “full color rendering” and do I need it?

Night vision filters can suppress the spectrum unevenly. Sometimes, the image on the display of a night vision compatible computer will look distorted, even monochromatic.

This is a problem for a variety of applications, especially mapping, which may use color to convey critical detail and information

Night vision filters can be constructed for “full color rendering.” Red looks red, yellow looks yellow and so on. For many applications, this is essential.

What the heck is U´ and V´?
Pronounced “U prime” and “V prime,” these coordinates describe color distortion caused by filters (even “full color” ones have some). An expert can look at u’ and v’ and know how whether or not the filters are appropriate for his application.

Why should I care if my filter is “polymeric”?
Filters made from polymeric materials are not flammable. Especially important for aviation applications.

Are night vision compatible computers “sunlight readable”?
Not with the filters on. Many night vision compatible computers have filters that are removable, so they can be used in the daytime. This leads to an important often unasked question, “Where the heck do I put my night vision filter when I am not using it?” This may seem to be a trivial detail, but when designing a night vision solution, it is an important consideration.

Click here to learn about AMREL’s night vision solutions.

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Machine Guns & Bacon [PHOTOS]

We live in the golden age of manly cooking. Across our great land, manly men are frying whole turkeys, using power tools to inject cheese into hot dogs, and tenderizing steak by blowing meat out of cannons.

One person had the vision to take manly cooking to its logical conclusion. Writing in Reddit, Oelund described how to fry bacon with a 7.62 mm machine gun.

In the comments sections, he said he was partially inspired by stories of British soldiers boiling tea with their automatic weapons in WW I. Boiling water is a good way of making sure what you are drinking is healthy (securing potable water can be a problem in a war zone).

However, manly men don’t care about health! We want bacon! (Come to think of it, if you’re the kind of guy who uses automatic weapons to cook, health may not be your number 1 priority anyway.)

Below are the photos and instructions Oelund posted. With its discussion of whether America is falling behind in the bacon race and the most economical machine gun to use for cooking, the comments section is worth reading.

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I’ve discovered a new way of cooking bacon. All you need is: bacon, tin foil, some string, and.. oh whats it called?… oh yeah, an old worn out 7.62mm machinegun that is about to be discarded, and about 200 rounds of ammunition.

You start by wrapping the barrel in tin foil. Then you wrap bacon around it, and tie it down with some string.

Bacon gun 1

you then wrap some more tin foil around it, and once again tie it down with string.

Bacon gun 2

It is now ready to be inserted into the cooking device. I ripped the tin foil a little bit getting the barrel inserted. that part of the bacon got severely burned by hot gasses.

Bacon gun 3

After just a few short bursts you should be able to smell the wonderful aroma of bacon.

Bacon gun 4

I gave this about 250 rounds. but I think around 150 might actually be enough. But then again I don’t mind when bacon is crispy. Ahh the smell of sizzling bacon mixed with the smell of gunpowder and weapon oil.

Bacon gun 5

And the end result: Crispy delicious well done bacon.

Bacon gun 6


Note: AMREL  advocates responsible use of high-powered firearms and does not recommend using machine guns to cook bacon or anything else. Although, we’ll think you’re cool if you do so.

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SAFFiR, the firefighting robot [VIDEO]

For five years, researchers at Virginia Tech have been working on the human-like, bipedal Shipboard Autonomous Firefighting Robot (SAFFiR). Recently, the SAFFiR was successfully tested on the Chatwal, the Navy’s firefighting ship.

SAFFiR used LIDAR (rotating lasers) to navigate through dense smoke across uneven floors. It located hot spots with its stereoscopic thermal imaging cameras, and dowsed a small fire with a hose.

SAFFiR stands at five feet, ten inches and weighs 143-pounds. Its electrical motors are protected from water by raingear.

It may have autonomous in its name, but currently it is controlled by human operators through a console. Eventually, natural language and gestures will be additional control options.

Shipboard fires are a nasty business. Not only do flammable systems and ordinances pose a threat, but also human firefighters may not have the latest training. Indeed, their responses may actually make the situation worse.

SAFFiR is bipedal so it can work in the cramped shipboard environments designed for humans. Eventually humans and unmanned systems will integrate into hybrid firefighting teams.

SAFFiR is sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR). ONR plans to expand SAFFiR’s duties to include checking for leaks, scanning for corrosion, and taking measurements.

UAVs Fall Down & Go Boom [TABLE]

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) crash. A lot.

Consider the chart below, which is for “Class A” accidents, the most serious designation. As you can see, at all times, for all platforms, UAVs have a significantly higher crash rate than manned aircraft.

UAV Crash Table

Click to expand table

The Defense Department maintains that the UAVs are relatively new, and that as we learn how to fly them better, the rate of accidents goes down. This assertion appears to be true. However, the rate of UAVs falling from the sky is still frequent enough to give anyone pause when pondering their integration into domestic airspace.

Why are UAVs so prone to crashing? In a rare burst of actual journalism, the Washington Post has conducted an in-depth study of this issue (the article is worth reading in its entirety). They identify four major causes:

“•A limited ability to detect and avoid trouble. Cameras and high-tech sensors on a drone cannot fully replace a pilot’s eyes and ears and nose in the cockpit. Most remotely controlled planes are not equipped with radar or anti-collision systems designed to prevent midair disasters.

• Pilot error. Despite popular perceptions, flying a drone is much trickier than playing a video game. The Air Force licenses its drone pilots and trains them constantly, but mistakes are still common, particularly during landings. In four cases over a three-year period, Air Force pilots committed errors so egregious that they were investigated for suspected dereliction of duty.

• Persistent mechanical defects. Some common drone models were designed without backup safety features and rushed to war without the benefit of years of testing. Many accidents were triggered by basic electrical malfunctions; others were caused by bad weather. Military personnel blamed some mishaps on inexplicable problems. The crews of two doomed Predators that crashed in 2008 and 2009 told investigators that their respective planes had been ‘possessed’ and plagued by ‘demons.’

• Unreliable communications links. Drones are dependent on wireless transmissions to relay commands and navigational information, usually via satellite. Those connections can be fragile. Records show that links were disrupted or lost in more than a quarter of the worst crashes.”

The problem of limited sight and sound is nothing to sneeze at. There was an incident of a $3.8 million Predator crashing, because the pilot did not realize the UAV was flying upside-down.

For this and other reasons, pilots do not like flying the UAVs. One pilot is quoted by the Washington Post as saying:

“The problem is that nobody is comfortable with Predator. Nobody,” the pilot said, according to an interview transcript. He called the malfunction-prone drone “the most back-assedward aircraft I ever flown.”

In addition to poorer visual acuity, Predators are also slower than manned aircraft. UAV operators have complained that aviation personnel, such as air traffic controllers, often fail to account for the UAV’s limited speed and visual capabilities.

Predators are lighter than manned aircraft and lack redundant systems, such as engines. This makes mechanical problems a lot more serious for UAVs.

As it is with manned aircraft, “pilot error” for UAVs is a complex issue. One of the main attractions for UAVs is that they can stay in the air longer than their manned counterparts. Ideally, the lengthy mission is shared between 2 or more pilots. However, a shortage of trained pilots has meant that UAV operators are putting in extended shifts. Of course, this increases the odds of pilot error.

Furthermore, UAVs are flown by teams, i.e. sensor operators as well as pilots. These teams may be responsible for more than one UAV at a time. The more people involved in a task, the more points of failure are possible.

Congress has ordered the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to issue rules for domestic integration of UAVs by September 2015. UAV promoters have accused the FAA of dragging its feet, but considering the poor adjustments that the Air Force and other institutions have made in switching from manned to unmanned vehicles, and the alarming crash rate, bureaucratic reluctance seems reasonable.

Some have argued that the integration of UAVs into domestic airspace should be easier than that of unmanned systems on the ground or in the water. Fewer obstacles, fewer people, and fewer competing manned vehicles. Developers of non-aerial unmanned vehicles should pay special attention to the legal and political challenges faced by UAVs for these may foreshadow the problems of integrating autonomous cars, remotely controlled ships, and even domestic robots.

AMREL New Rugged Night Vision Computing Solutions  

AMREL now offers a full line of turn-key night vision solutions, fully compliant with MIL-STD 3009 and CECOM (CSLP) standards.

“AMREL’s rugged laptops, tablets, and handhelds are the perfect platforms for night vision solutions,” states Kalvin Chen, AMREL’s VP of Operations. “The durability and reliability of our computers makes them practical for both ground and aviation purposes.”

The widespread use of night vision goggles has necessitated the adoption of light restricting filters for mobile computers. Aviation crews must be careful that the light of their laptops and tablets do not blind pilots who use night vision goggles to fly in dark, dangerous areas. Military forces on the ground are keen that enemies cannot detect their presence by using night vision goggles to spot light emitting from their tactical computers.

“Special Forces have used AMREL’s rugged computers for years,” explains Mr. Chen. “We are especially pleased that we can offer them this feature, which enhances their safety by limiting their detectability. Of course, our night vision computing solutions also meet the less stringent aviation standards.”

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AMREL’s Night Vision Computing Solutions virtually eliminate all infrared emissions completely, which is important, since night vision goggles usually work in that part of the spectrum. Overall light transmissions are restricted to just 2.5%. Other levels of light suppression are available on request.

AMREL Night Vision Solutions use the industry-leading SafeNight™* filters. These polymeric filters are nonflammable and offer full color rendering, which is important for mapping applications.

AMREL Night Vision Computing Solutions are available for:

  • ROCKY RS11, the lightest, thinnest rugged laptop in the world (13.3” display)
  • ROCKY DK10 fully rugged tablet (12.1” display)
  • ROCKY DB6 handheld, the smallest, fully rugged handheld with full Windows OS (5” display)
  • Other computing platforms available upon request.

For more information, visit:

*“SafeNight” trademark is property of CEVIANS, LLC – Formerly a division of Wamco Inc.

Spot is an UGV You Can Kick [VIDEO]

Boston Dynamics quadrupedal Big Dog Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) looks pretty amazing in its videos. However, the smaller version, known as “Spot,” is even more mind-boggling.

The electrically powered Spot is faster and quieter than the gas-fueled Big Dog. Weighing only 160 pounds (Big Dog is 240), Spot displays an impressive agility while navigating stairs, crossing rough terrain and especially righting itself after being kicked (one commentator suggests that since the robot rebellion is inevitable, it is unwise for Boston Dynamics to abuse them).

One of the main arguments against UGVs with legs is their lack of robustness and engineering simplicity as compared to their wheeled counterparts (for more on this debate, see Walk n’ Roll). The progress Boston Dynamics has made with Spot and Big Dog undermines this contention. Go, Spot, go.

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