I hate rugged computers

“What a rip off!  All you do is add is a few cents worth of rubber guards to your corners and call it rugged. The CPU of your rugged laptop is at least 2 years out of date. My regular old civilian laptop does a thousand things your laptop doesn’t. And rugged laptops are heavy, oversized monstrosities! How can you justify your ridiculous price?”

Not an actual email from a not real customer.

Fortunately, the above fictitious email is not representative of our clients and partners. Most of the people with whom we deal understand the true worth of ruggedized computers. Every once in awhile we run into someone who is new to ruggedness and we have to sit down and explain the facts of life to them.

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  • “…all you do is add is a few cents worth of rubber guards to your corners.”

Actually, we do a lot more than that. AMREL’s computers are built rugged from the ground up. Most of the work that goes into them is not readily visible.

For example, AMREL laptops have a Fault Tolerant Isolation Design – an encapsulation process that protects individual components from water, dust, and other foreign matter. Analogous to a submarine, each chamber in the body of our laptops and on-board/fixed vehicle units is individually sealed. Protective chambers separate the following compartments: motherboard, I/O ports, removable hard drive, and swappable Application Modules.

Bear in mind that our rugged computers are not just built for getting knocked around. They have to meet exacting standards for operating in high/low pressure, rain, dust, humidity, salt fog, and extreme temperatures. This is one reason that “protective sleeves,” which promise to ruggedize your commercial computer are less than ideal.

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  • “The CPU of your rugged laptop is at least 2 years out of date. My regular old civilian laptop does a thousand things your laptop doesn’t.”

This is a criticism often leveled at technology fielded by the military, and that is not a coincidence. Many of the same factors that affect the military also affect us.

For example, the rugged computer market is much smaller than the commercial one, just as the military market is lesser than the consumer one. Not only does the lack of economy of scale mean we have to pay higher prices for specialized parts, but the lack of choice for vendors leads to uncontrollable delays. Delays lead to a longer development process, which hinders our ability to utilize the most recent technological advances.

Furthermore, ruggedized computers are used in critical applications for soldiers and police. We build computers as if someone’s life depended on it, because they often do. This leads to a quality control system that is far more strict and redundant than what commercial products are subjected to.  To maintain such high standards, delays are inevitable.

So, our product development cycle, like all rugged computer manufacturers, is much longer. Greater and lengthier analyses and tests are required. Under these conditions, it’s almost impossible for any rugged computer to match the latest consumer products with their much shorter development cycles.

Still, AMREL is very conscious of the gap between the latest commercial products and typical ruggedized computers. The good news is that while it still is a problem, we have made real progress in bringing up-to-date technology to the rugged world.

One approach that we have taken is to design our rugged computers to be extremely flexible. Unlike commercial mobile platforms, ours are built to be quickly customized. Adding new technology is easy and convenient.

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  • “… how can you justify your ridiculous price?

As mention above rugged computers do not enjoy the same economy of scale as commercial ones.

However, this is a bit misleading, because rugged computers are a very good value for their price. This has been confirmed by every study that’s ever investigated this issue. The most well-known is by VDC Research who concluded that “Ruggedized Devices – both large and small form factor – achieve a distinct TCO advantage.”

TCO is Total Cost of Ownership. Not only does it include the initial price, but also platform support, integration, connectivity, lost work time, lost data, repair, and replacement cost. The later factors can be much greater than the initial price.

Another way of phrasing this is that rugged computers break down less often, need less repair, and last much longer than commercial grade ones.  I don’t know about you, but whenever my commercial laptop gets over 4 years old, my repair man stars muttering ominous threats about his inability to get “ancient” parts, and how my motherboard won’t support the latest application or operating system. In contrast I know of one police department that has been using our laptops 7 days a week for 12 years. This sort of longevity is especially important to the military.

So complaining that rugged computers are more expensive than commercial ones is the same as comparing a 90-minute phone card with a 45-minute one, i.e. one is more expensive, but it lasts much longer.

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  • “And rugged laptops are heavy, oversized monstrosities!”

You haven’t been paying attention. AMREL has launched SlimLine, a new generation of extremely thin fully rugged laptops, tablets, and handhelds. They so radically change the conventional idea of durability, that one of our biggest problems is convincing our clients and partners that a laptop only an inch thick is actually fully rugged! We even have a rugged handheld that will run full Windows OS, but is so small that it will slide into a cargo pocket.

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Still rugged mobile computers are not for everyone.  You should NOT buy a rugged computer if:

  • The data on your computer is not important, i.e. you don’t mind loosing it due to failure.
  • Frequent downtimes and repairs are not a problem for you.
  • You don’t care that you have to replace your handheld, laptop or tablet every few years.
  • You operate your computer in an exceptionally stable, non-threatening environment.

If the above statements do not describe you, give one our experts a call at (800) 882-6735, or email us at cdinfo@amrel.com and learn more about the advantages of rugged computers.

MilDef Group Acquires AMREL’s Rugged Product Lines

MilDef Group Acquires AMREL’s Rugged Product Lines
For Immediate Realse

Los Angeles, CA (September 28, 2016) – On September 8, MilDef Group completed the acquisition of the rugged product lines of American Reliance, Inc. (AMREL®). Located in El Monte, California, AMREL’s Computer Division has been a long-standing,

key player in the rugged computers market, providing COTS, modified COTS, and customized rugged solutions to Defense, Industrial, and Public Safety sector for the past 30+ years. With this acquisition, MilDef assumes AMREL’s role and will continue to market, sell, and service AMREL’s clientele with its complete range of rugged products’ portfolio.

Edward Chen, CEO of AMREL Group, states, “MilDef and AMREL have been partners for over two decades and this acquisition is a natural fit and the synergy is apparent. MilDef Inc. will carry on AMREL’s legacy under its MilDef brand name in the North and South American region and continue providing our valued customers exceptional service and support after the acquisition. AMREL Computer Division will focus its effort on mobile biometric product line to provide secure and reliable products to global homeland security.”

“The US is an important market for MilDef and this acquisition allows us to further strengthen our position within that market. MilDef and AMREL have a long standing relationship so this feels like a natural step to take. The synergies after the acquisition will provide long term benefits for all parties and this is also in line with our international expansion strategy.” says Tomas Odelid, CEO MilDef Group.

The acquisition will not impact AMREL’s other businesses and customers. For further information, contact:

Tomas Odelid, CEO, MilDef Group, +1 571 290 1333, +46 705 250029, tomas.odelid@mildef.com.

Edward Chen, CEO, American Reliance, Inc., +1 626 443 6818, edwardc@amrel.com.

About MilDef

MilDef Group consists of MilDef AB and MilDef Systems in Sweden, MilDef Limited in the United Kingdom, MilDef Inc in the United States and MilDef AS in Norway. MilDef develops, manufactures and sells rugged computers and special electronics to customers in the defense sector. Our portfolio consists of a complete range of rugged IT products, fully customizable. For more information, visit www.mildef.com

About AMREL

Founded in 1985, American Reliance Inc. (AMREL®) core business has been in industrial power and rugged computer business, providing programmable power supplies, electronic loads, test equipment, and rugged computers to Industrial, Public Safety, and Defense sector. After the turn of the century, it expanded its business to capture emerging market trends and opportunities to include Renewable Energy and Medical.

With the recent acquisitions of its initial core businesses, AMREL Group will shift its focus on clean energy, medical, and biometrics business. For more information, visit www.amrel.com.

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Killer police robots are not a big deal

Last July, Dallas police killed a suspected gunman with an Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV). By any conceivable stretch of the imagination, this was a “good kill.” The gunman had murdered 5 policemen, threatened to kill more with hidden bombs, and refused to give up even after hours of negotiations. A credible threat against civilians had been made. The threat had to be neutralized in a timely fashion. Using an UGV reduced the danger to officers, and protected civilians at the same time.

We are not sure what kind of robot was used, but it was probably one designed to detect Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). Ironically, the robot, which was most likely designed to counter explosive devices, killed the gunman by detonating a bomb (a pound of C4 explosives).

Sources claim that the UGV was a Remotec Andros F-5 model (some say it was a MARCbot, but this appears to be speculation). We do know that the UGV was remotely controlled. Both the MARCbot and the Andros F-5 have been used in overseas combat operations.

The tactic of jury rigging an explosive device to a UGV in order to perform a kinetic action is not a new one. The Brookings Institution reported in the “Military Robots and the Laws of War” that soldiers would strap Claymore anti-personnel mines to UGVs in attempts to kill insurgents.

Some are alarmed that police used military equipment and tactics on American soil. Many feel that the whole “killer robot” scenario was just plain ominous. The following quotes are typical.

“The ‘targeted killing’ of a suspect on ‘U.S. soil,’ as opposed to extraterritorial declared or undeclared war zones, where this operation also has clear precedents too, has captivated the attention of scholars and the public. … the event raises many issues about the rules of engagement and the constitutional rights of a suspect—issues that obviously the Dallas police completely skirted, and do not seem too willing to discuss in the aftermath.” Javier Arbona, Assistant Professor, University of California at Davis in American Studies and Design, UC Davis

“As with other game-changing technologies, police robotics—especially as weapons—could change the character of law enforcement in society.”  Patrick Li, Director of the Ethics & Emerging Sciences Group and a philosophy professor at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, IEEE Spectrum

“…placing a bomb on a police robot with the intention to kill a suspect—if that is, in fact, what happened—would represent a major shift in policing tactics….It now appears that a tactic of war deployed on foreign soil is being used on the streets of American cities. There are still a lot of moving pieces and things to sort together in the aftermath of the police shootings in Dallas. But one thing is clear: the rules of police engagement might have just changed forever.” Daniel Rivero, Fusion

As evidenced by the above quotes, legal experts and ethicists are anxious over the use of a “killer robot.” You know who didn’t seem concerned? Police.

 “Admittedly, I’ve never heard of that tactic being used before in civilian law enforcement, but it makes sense. You’ve got to look at the facts, the totality of the circumstances. You’ve got officers killed, civilians in jeopardy, and an active shooter scenarios. You know that you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to neutralize that threat. So whether you do it with a sniper getting a shot through the window or a robot carrying an explosive device? It’s legally the same.” Dan Montgomery, former police chief, Time

I called AMREL’s Director of Public Safety Programs, William Leist, to ask his opinion. A former Assistant Chief California Highway Patrol, he has many years of police experience. He fell into the camp of no big deal.

 “Deadly force is deadly force. Whether we use a bomb, a vehicle or a firearm, if the situation is such that deadly force is authorized, lawful, and necessary, the mechanism really shouldn’t matter.”

I am inclined to strongly agree with Bill Leist (and not just because he works with AMREL in supplying rugged computers and biometric devices to law enforcement). The use of a UGV in this particular instance isn’t really a game changer, as some experts are maintaining.

However, let’s be devil’s advocate and point to potential problems. There is an old saying, “good cases make bad laws” In other words, a specific high-profile instance may not be the best guide for similar circumstances in the future. Just because the use of a UGV in Dallas was a lethal operation that even Gandhi would have approved doesn’t mean that there isn’t potential for abuse.

The adoption of new technologies does not always lead to expected results. Police have expanded an application of another new technology, UGVs, beyond the original purpose. Granted, this new application is justifiable in this instance, but are we in a position to predict future consequences?

Police are being overwhelmed with technology. Law enforcement officer are dealing with a multitude of biometric devices, communication technologies, non-lethal weapons, biometric equipment, and a wide variety of computer platforms. In many departments, training has not kept up with the needs. Should there be certain minimal standards for operators of UGVs? Who sets them?

Suppose something goes wrong and a civilian gets hurt. The police will say that it’s not their fault, because the UGV malfunctioned. The manufacturer will say their UGVs are not designed for lethal operations, so it isn’t their responsibility. Granted, almost all police actions have liability issues. However, unmanned technologies pose liability problems that are beyond traditional concerns, and are major factors in slowing their adoption.

What about visibility? Whether a shooting is justified or not may depend on what a policeman sees or what he thinks he sees. Remote-controlled unmanned systems, who operators may have limited visibility, may present new problems.

Using lethal force with an UGV does not herald a new era of law enforcement. The adoption of this new technology is unlikely to fundamentally alter the current legal dynamics surrounding the use of police force. However, they may present new complications and challenges.

 

What does the US military think of the Chinese army?

This post originally appeared on Quora as an an answer to the question, “What do members of the United States military think of the Chinese army?

I am not a member of the American armed forces, but I read Defense publications every day for my job. For my corporate blog, I rely on many of the same sources that the American military relies on for their information. My impression, as an outsider, is that the American military simultaneously regards the Chinese with two opposing attitudes, i.e. respect and contempt.

Why respect?

  1. The Chinese have a reputation for being clever, resourceful, and practical. Only a fool would underestimate them.
  2. As noted in other answers, not only is the Chinese military big (really big!), but so is their economy, which means, in theory, they can adequately support their armed forces.
  3. The DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) could play a significant role in countering US Naval capabilities in the most likely theater of conflict, the South China Sea. The US Navy is adjusting its plans for technological development and acquisition to specifically deal with this threat.
  4. Chinese anti-satellite and cyber capabilities are genuine concerns.

Why contempt? This is a little trickier to answer, since the American Defense establishment is highly motivated to praise Chinese capabilities, i.e. nobody ever got more money from Congress by telling them the enemy’s military stinks. However, the contempt is real, at least for some members of the American military.

Here are my best guesses why there is contempt:

  1. There are reasons why the Chinese have an army of cyber thieves trying to steal from us, and we are not trying to steal from them. As good as Chinese technology is, it’s just not where it should be for a first-class power. Their technological base lacks the quality and depth that is needed. Whenever I read a Western Defense publication reporting on a Chinese announcement of their latest and greatest super weapon (usually a bad copy of outdated Soviet technology), one can practically see the snark dripping off the webpage. For example, Chinese lack the capability of making an engine suitable for a fifth-generation combat jet (my info may be out of date on this). This negative assessment of their technological capabilities may be incorrect, but at least some analysts hold it.
  2. The American military is a highly-trained professional force that can project power anywhere in the world. The Chinese military is a mostly uneducated and conscripted force designed primarily for domestic control. Basically, some Americans look at the Chinese the same way that the British regulars looked at the American colonial militias. Yeah, they’re good on their home turf, but in a proper fight on foreign soil? Forget about it.
  3. The Americans fight wars all the time. The Chinese do not. We know which of our stuff works and our officers are experienced in combat. The Chinese military has demonstrated great capabilities in scaring Filipino fishermen, but how would they perform in actual fight with a significant foe? No one really knows.

I want to make it clear that the above opinions do not necessarily reflect my own. I am merely reporting on what I have heard and read. For what it’s worth, I think the real wild card is the surreal level of Chinese corruption. Has it affected the ability of the Chinese military to project force? Again, no one really knows. Hopefully, we will never find out.

 

Tablet Night Vision Solution

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Capabilities

Typical of AMREL’s off-the-shelf customizations, this ready-to-go solution uses industry-leading SafeNight™ non-flammable polymeric optical filters. Perfect for covert ground as well as aviation missions.

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Defense

Customized Specs

  • NVIS filter (2.5% transmission)
  • No IR signature
  • Full color rendering
  • MIL-STD 3009 – CECOM/CSLP
  • Option for electronic Night Vision mode
  • Night Vision Solutions also available for handhelds and laptops.
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