At Panasonic, the Toughbook series of mobile computers come in one of three categories of environmental toughness – business rugged, semi-rugged and fully rugged. For first responders, Panasonic’s John Stewart recommends fully rugged.

“Even in the harshest environment, it always has to work,” said Stewart, senior area sales manager for a five-state region in the northwest U.S.

Stewart, on hand in July for the Fire-Rescue International conference in Denver, provided Industrial Fire World with some insight into the latest upgrades to the Toughbook product line and Panasonic’s newest offerings applicable to emergency responders.

“What our consumers expect out of these products is that they always work,” Stewart said. “They don’t care how fancy it is or what color it is. They care that when they are on scene in a fire situation it works.”

Toughbook computers are engineered to withstand the kind of abuse – dust, vibration, moisture and impact – to be expected from personnel also equipped with tools such as pike poles and fire axes.

“Our product is engineered from the inside out,” Stewart said. “Everything within our product is fully rugged, from the hard drive to the motherboard and the conductivity that connects them. It’s a complete architecture. As a result, we have the lowest failure rate in the industry.”

The ingress protection rating or IP Code classifies and rates the degrees of protection provided against the intrusion of dust and water in electrical enclosures. The higher the number, the better the rating, Stewart said.

Toughbook, with a very high protective design for water and dust, rates at IP65, he said. The closest competitor rates at IP54. Some Toughbook designs are even more water resistant, Stewart said.

The latest generation of the rugged series is the Toughbook 19 convertible tablet PC. It now comes with an Intel Core i5-3320M vPro processor (up to 3.3GHz) with Intel Turbo Boost Technology.

Other enhancements include expanded storage, a more responsive touchpad and an innovative ambient light sensor, allowing automatic backlight shut-off to improve battery life.

Other Toughbook improvements include:

  • Expanded storage: 500GB 7200rpm hard drive (shock-mounted flex-connect with quick release)
  • Improved battery life: 10 percent longer, delivering 10 hours per MobileMark 2007 testing on the touch model
  • Added connectivity options: USB 3.0 port provides up to 10 times faster file transfer speeds
  • Increased touchpad responsiveness: Now using Interlink’s VersaPad
  • Improved battery calibration tool: Now capable of running in the background, allowing simultaneous use of computer.

The Toughbook 19 goes beyond the MIL-STD-810G certification with the ability to withstand a six-foot drop. The device also features a shock-mounted hard drive, full magnesium alloy case and available explosive atmosphere certification (Class 1 Div 2) for hazardous environments.

New Panasonic products such as Toughbook 19 are the direct result of consumer input, Stewart said.

“Our team is focused on the end user,” he said. “What we start with is the application – how are we going to use it or where is it going to be used? – because we have a variety of ruggedized products. We have different degrees of durability. Within those groups we have tablets, convertible computers and traditional laptops.”

Depending on the customer’s application and budget constrains, Panasonic recommends the product that can most efficiently perform the job, Stewart said.

Why develop a broad range of Toughbooks with varying degrees of toughness? Because not everyone who needs a Toughbook is a first responder, Stewart said.

“Maybe you have a fire inspector, fire chief or captain, somebody who works in a less harsh environment,” he said. “The Toughbook they use for work doesn’t need to be so rugged, so the cost goes down.”

Also, a lot of the routine work done by industrial responders requires something mobile but not so tough, he said. One example is inspecting equipment such as fire extinguishers throughout the plant.

“We have a Toughbook H2 handheld tablet that is a Windows 7 device,” Stewart said. “It has an Intel i5 processor, which is very robust. The neat thing about the H2 is it has a lot of integrations into it. It has radio-frequency identification for automatic tracking. It does barcode scanning, global positioning system and broadband communication.”

In layman’s terms, the H2 integrates into one device functions that otherwise would require the responder to carry a separate device for each. Toughbook also has computers in its product line that could handle the high end graphics necessary for simulation and training programs.

New to the Fire-Rescue International Conference was Panasonic’s Wearable Video Camera system introduced in May. Designed for public safety investigations, the device provides a comprehensive system that captures and stores tamper-proof audio video evidence, delivering an accurate and unbiased record.

“It provides a 180 degree fisheye view,” Stewart said. “What does that mean? It means a wider range of attention that captures everything. In an arson investigation, you can review the evidence for new clues.”

Also, the camera has a built-in gyroscope that keeps the camera level and stable despite the position of the operator, he said.

These improvements and upgrade stem from annual advisory panel meetings that bring Panasonic customers together to discuss the changes they want in the equipment they purchase.

“We build new products based on customer input,” Stewart said. “We don’t tell our customers what to do – our customers drive the changes we make.”