Transmissive, transflective, and reflective

In describing computer displays, what do the terms “transmissive,” “reflective,” and “transflective” mean?article page main ehow images a07 r9 0e adjust brightness desktop computers laptops 800x800

Transmissive is the most commonly used means of illuminating a computer display.  The display is lit up from the back. While this method is fine for indoor use, strong sunlight may overwhelm it, making the computer screen difficult to read.

Reflective method does very well in the bright outdoors.  The computer is illuminated by the reflected light of the computer’s surroundings. The brighter the sun, the brighter the display.  However, it does not do well in dim settings, i.e. indoors.

Transflective combines the transmissive and reflective methods of illumination.  This gives the viewer the best of both worlds, enabling the display to be optimized for the greatest variety of environments.

Even though transflective appears to be the best method, it may not be the best for you. You need to consider your applications specific needs, including energy usage, heat generation, and issues such as compatibility with night vision goggles.  Display brightness may also be affected by chemical treatment of the surface (anti-glare coating), viewing angle, contrast controls, and a host of other factors.  For more information, see Are nits the only important rating for hi-bright display?

Baja Torture Test

“Imagine a test where you: blow dust at your laptop for hours at aBaja Torture Test  time; vibrate it all day for days at a time; subject it to altitude variations of 0 to 10,000 feet; operate it in temperatures reaching 130 degrees Fahrenheit; virtually soak the laptop in water for two days; expose it to humidity of 95 percent for prolonged periods. While this may seem like a specially designed test to force a laptop to fail, the truth is that this was an actual situation.”

A few years back, some folks decided that it would be amusing to take an AMREL ROCKY computer on a bike ride through the harsh environment of the Baja. Kacey Smith, author of the Baja GPS Guidebook for off-road dirt bikes, reported that the ROCKY computer successfully operated through extremes of rain, vibration, and heat.  What really surprised her was how it survived the omnipresent dust. Read more

COTS Obsolescence & Total Cost of Ownership

The initial purchase price of your rugged computer may only be aCOTS Obsolenense  small part of the Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Platform support, customization, integration, connectivity, and inadequate durability may make your “bargain” very expensive.  Will your rugged computer be good for your ROI five or ten years from now or just for today?

Commercial Off the Shelf (COTS) products are attractive for the price and established supply chain. However, there is a fundamental problem buying mass-produced off-the-shelf items. New and upgraded products typically generate more profit than old ones. Corporations prioritize the overhead of product support for the greatest revenue earners, i.e. the new products. Support for older platforms is phased out. Read more

What is “MIL-STD 810”?


The primary purpose of MIL-STD 810 is for “…generating  confidence in the environmental worthiness and overall durability of materiel system design”(U.S. Army Developmental Test Command (DTC)). This standard establishes specifications and testing procedures for resistance to rain, shock, vibration, dust, humidity, salt fog, and extreme temperatures. 810

Some think of 810 as “the” rugged standard, which of course, is not true. Many other standards come into play, such as MIL-STD 461 for electromagnetic emissions or the Navy’s MIL-S-901D for equipment mounted on US ships.

MIL-STD 810 is sufficiently complex and multivariable, that it may be more appropriate to think of it as a set of environmental standards, rather than a single specification. This is especially true when evaluating compliance. It is quite common for commercial companies to claim that their product “meets” MIL-STD 810, when actually it only meets a small fraction of the specifications. Read more

OSHA & Rugged Computers

describe the imageRichard Lane, AMREL’s VP of Strategic Business Development, penned an interesting article about his rugged computing needs as an environmental scientist when he inspected on-shore /offshore oil production facilities.  In the July 2010 issue of Occupational Health & Safety, Richard writes, “Ironically, we probably spent more money on metal clipboards, waterproof paper, copies, and redundant data entry than I spent last week on a new netbook.” Check out Strategic Value for the Health & Safety Industry.”

Do I need a hi-bright display?

Do I need a hi-bright display?

Brighter is not always better.  It’s true that hi-bright displays are
more visible outdoors. However, they also use a lot of power.  While this can be compensated for with appropriate power management schemes, an overly bright display can be a problem for a demanding application that relies heavily on batteries. When more power is used, more heat is generated. So heat-sinking needs to be looked at as well. Don’t forget about the other end of the brightness scale. That bright display may need to be ratcheted down a lot to work with night-vision goggles.

Connecting “The Last Tactical Mile” with Mature Technology

In a recent posting (Network-centric Warfare: Dead or Alive ?), I wrote about the debate concerning network-centric warfare.  In the wake of the “reorganization” and outright elimination of high-profile initiatives and programs associated with network-centric warfare, Defense vendors are anxiously wondering if it LTM 1will persist as a central doctrine for transforming the military.

Clearly, the military’s obsession with connectivity is far from over.  DARPA is actively working to overcome the military’s traditional anxiety about the security of distributed servers (Pentagon Looks to Militarize the Cloud).  The Army is running a contest for mobile applications and talking about issuing smartphones to every soldier (A Smart Phone for Every Soldier?). Solutions are being displayed for sticking 3G cellular pods on a variety of vehicles, including UAVs (Forward Airborne Secure Transmissions and Communications). 

So the forces that spawned network-centric warfare are still active, but as I concluded in the above-referenced blog post, so are the problems that have frustrated its implementation. Here’s a partial list of obstacles

  1. Money
  2. Lack of interoperability
  3. Money
  4. Development and acquisition pipeline logjam
  5. Money

According to at least one analysis, the current cost-climate climate means “… that the personnel and procurement budgets will be reduced to pay for O&M costs…” (Defense Industry Daily). As the demand for novel technology grows, acquisition budgets shrink.  Defense wants the latest and greatest solutions, they want them now, and they want them to have a TRL level of 9 before they even see them. Government paying for research, testing, validation and verification?  That’s so 20th century.

      Using mature systems to develop advanced, useful solutions for today’s challenges is not impossible.  Working with strategic partners, AMREL has developed System One, a Last Tactical Mile solution, a system composed of entirely battle-proven technology.

      “The Last Tactical Mile” is a classic problem of network-centric warfare. Front-line troops are demanding real-time information. The days are over when data for C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) only went to the “back-end” (headquarters located away from the front).  However, getting this information into hands of the warfighter is a tremendous problem.

      To appreciate the complexities of “The Last Tactical Mile,” imagine a team of Marines attacking a high value target in littoral waters. They might be deployed on an amphibious assault vehicle (whatever replaces the now-canceled Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle).  In theory, this scenario could require connectivity among a UAV, external ship sensors, satellite networks, the amphibious assault vehicle, mother ship personnel, and the strike team deployed.  Space is limited aboard the ships and all equipment must be ruggedized in order to withstand the harsh maritime and combat environments.

      System One leverages AMREL’s broad range of from-factors for mature computing platforms, which are more than rugged enough to withstand the brutal vibrations of the high-speed landing craft,  the corrosive conditions of the sea, as well as the violent realities of warfighting.  AMREL’s durable, battle-tested PDAs are ideal for the Marine strike team.  AMREL’s portable, rugged tablets could maintain communication with the amphibious assault vehicle’s coxswain as well as the mother ship’s onboard crew. Our fully functional 19/2® servers are1/4 the size of normal rack-mounted units, so they’re perfect for the cramped quarters of the assault vehicle. Designed to be flexible and to maximize connectivity, AMREL’s computers would have no problem tying the whole thing together with a MESH network.

      System One has already successfully demonstrated the connectivity and reliability required for such a scenario. It can be installed on any vehicle, land or sea. It would function perfectly in the high-speed Stiletto boat and is small enough to fit in even the most crowded MRAP vehicle. In fact, it’s so compact, it is even man-portable.

      An example of an advanced solution using mature, field-tested components, System One demonstrates that with careful strategic teaming and a bit of imagination, diminished government resources for research and testing can be leveraged into an opportunity.

      For a more detailed discussion of “The Last Tactical Mile” and System One, please see IDGA’s interview with Luke McKinney, an expert in military intelligence operations and joint mission analysis.

      What’s the difference between AMREL’s medical and military computers?

      They’re built to different standards. AMREL’s ROCKY computers meet military standards for ruggedness, whereas our medical computers meet IEC 60601-1 standard for medical electrical equipment.

      This has led to some hardware differences. ROCKY’s military computers are shielded to meet MIL-STD 461E for electromagnetic interference. To meet EMC (as well as safety) requirements, the medical versions have rubber pads on the bottom and fewer interface connections at its rear.

      Note: Both AMREL’s ROCKY and medical computers are certified by third parties. Unlike other companies, we are not satisfied with unsubstantiated claims of compliance.

      Does your rugged computer need legacy Wi-Fi?

      Some computer manufacturers are eliminating IEEE 802.11b protocols, claiming that it will improve 802.11g.  Since 802.11n is the fastest WLAN standard, why have any legacy Wi-Fi at all?

      You need a, b, and g, because not all hot spots are running n. For example, if you’re operating an MQ-1 Predator by a wireless control system, while sipping a Frappuccino at Starbuck’s (you have your fantasies; I have mine), your computer better accommodate legacy Wi-Fi networks.  If you know that your computer will be solely dedicated to a network that only supports 802.11n, then you don’t need connectivity for the older standards.

      By the way, when you use your computer to conduct major combat operations from the local coffee house, be careful where you sit; data throughput dramatically decreases the further away you sit from an access point.

      Custom Rugged Computer Quiz

      Mobile_mesh_networkAt AMREL, we see a lot of other people’s mistakes. Clients frequently come in with tales of woe, asking us to clean up messes made by them or their previous customization company. Some errors are specific to the customization process; others are true for rugged computers in general.

      Of course, we’re happy for the business, but we think a little bit of knowledge can save everyone a lot of headaches.  So, before you begin your journey through customization, take this short test to see if you’re ready.

      Part One: True or False

      Please indicate which of the following statements are true.

      1) Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) is a valid way of comparing quality of parts from different companies.

      2) Customizations must be done by third parties.

      3) The manufacturer’s warranty never includes customization.

      4) Low-volume customizations are too expensive to be practical.

      5) The warranty and purchase price reflect the true cost of the computer.

      6) A signed obsolescence agreement with your vendor ends your worries about End of Life issues.

      7) No such thing as “Customized COTS.”

      Part Two: Name three wrong things the narrator did in the following story

      “I needed a customized application for rugged computers. It was quite tricky.  My team sat down, created a solution, and wrote the specs for it. We weren’t sure which rugged computer company to use, so we picked a large one, assuming they had the best capabilities. They explained to us that our specs weren’t practical. For one thing, the solid state hard drive required by our specs was much more expensive than we expected. We had to eliminate some of our wireless capabilities and other features in order to meet our pricepoint.”

      Part Three: In one word, what is the most important thing to look for in a supplier of customized rugged computers?

      For the answers to these questions, click here.