Current Cover (3068 bytes)
Current Cover

Recent issues

HOME | Windows Mobile | Palm OS | Features | Pen Computers | Rugged PC | Tablet PCs | Case Studies | Industry leaders

Panasonic Toughbook 07

Unique wireless display pad makes information ultraportable (May 2002 issue)
by David macNeill

Unlike just about every other laptop computer company, the Panasonic Computer Solutions Company that makes the Toughbook line of rugged computers designs their machines from the outside in. Toughbooks are created in direct response to corporate or government customer request. Need a hundred wireless PCs you can mount on police bicycles? Fifty field notebooks that will survive years of use in a coal mine? A dozen ultraportables your scientists can take to meetings in London and Antarctica? Be sure to include Panasonic on your short list of vendors.

Most computer makers contract out their manufacturing to various companies whose names you would not recognize. The vast majority of laptops, for example, are designed and build by a handful of outfits in Taiwan, an arrangement that works very well for all concerned if the market is very large and homogeneous. It doesn't work nearly as well in situations that require customization and quick response to customer requests.

Panasonic builds their Toughbooks from the ground up, sometimes in small batches with specific features mandated by the customer, others times in mass quantities for their more mainstream models. They can do that because parent Matsushita Electric not only produces many of the components itself, but also because R&D, testing, and production are all closely working together within the same company. You won't find Toughbooks at your local CompUSA, however. Panasonic is strictly business-to-business, either directly or through its VARs. To learn more about Thoughbook solutions view the company website.

Wearable Toughbook

When customers started asking them to build a wearable Toughbook, Panasonic looked at the current state of wearables and rejected them all as unwieldy, fragile, and impractical. Instead, they envision a thin and light display pad that would wirelessly connect to a rugged base computer located up to a few hundred feet away. The result is the mobile Data Wireless Display, or MDWD, and its companion, the brick-like Toughbook 07 which represents the system unit side of this dynamic duo. Implementing such a unique solution requires making some sensible compromises. Using 802.11b wireless ethernet LAN technology, for example, acceptable display lag times mandated a relatively moderate resolution of 800x600 pixels at 256 colors on an 8.4-inch diagonal non-glare TFT with FL backlight. Panasonic confirms that they are working hard to up the number of colors in the next version, a move that will allow more effective use of color images for law enforcement, training, documentation, and other image-intensive activities. Also, a special high-bright version (350 nits) that nonetheless achieves good battery life, should be ready at the time of publication.

The illustration above shows Panasonic's optional holster/vest that allows field workers to comfortably wear and carry the entire CF-07 assembly all day long.

The slim, 1.5-pound MDWD can operate continuously for around two hours before needing to be charged, a number that will increase when the newer lithium-polymer battery materials are used down the road. It can be carried in a large pocket or in an optional holster. The unit is a rugged as any Toughbook, with a tough moisture and dust-resistant magnesium alloy casing housing internally shock-mounted components. All ports and connectors are covered with tightly-fitted rubber covers. The company claims this unit can survive four-foot drops to pavement on a total of 26 surfaces, edges, and corners. It is also vibration resistant, and passed rigorous drip and dust tests. Tests were conducted according to MIL-STD-810E and a number of Japanese industrial standards.

The daylight-readable 8.4-inch TFT display shown above has a scratch-resistant coating over the passive touchscreen, making it usable with either the supplied plastic stylus or a fingertip, bare or gloved. Power, setup menu, and right-clicking are easy to accomplish using the dedicated buttons on the side of the unit's face.

The brick

While there is software available for the MDWD that can make it work as a mobile screen with any Toughbook, a more compact solution is to use the new Toughbook 07 Mini PC, a rough-and-ready little slab of a computer with an ultra-low-voltage 300MHz Mobile Pentium III, 128 MB of RAM (expandable to 256MB), and a 5GB drive. Though it can operate on its own power that consist of two 1700 mAh Li-Ion packs and is good for up to four hours of operation, a docking unit/port replicator is practically a must-have item in most situations. The optional port replicator provides a CD-ROM drive and a full complement of connectors (LAN, mic/audio, headphone, keyboard, USB, external display, serial and parallel, and DC-IN). There is also a lock slot for a Kensington style lock. Like all Toughbooks, the CF-07 is wireless-ready and can be outfitted with your choice of three wireless data modems: CDPD (AT&T), DataTAC (Motient), or Mobitex (Cingular). An optional GPS function can also be incorporated into the CF-07. Mounted in a vehicle, such as patrol car, the 07 takes up about as much space as a CD changer.

With the CF-07 Mobile Data Wireless Display and Mini PC, Panasonic has created a unique system that has already become a huge hit in aircraft maintenance, law enforcement, and other rough-and-tumble field applications. Think of it as Microsoft's Mira concept tablet on steroids. It is a candidate for any application where a field worker needs the full computing power of a modern Windows 98/2000 system, yet where size and weight matter as well. By separating the system unit from the display, Panasonic offers a compelling solution that may well be the answer for many vertical market applications. - by David MacNeill


Processor Mobile Intel Pentium III, 300MHz
OS Windows 98/2000
Memory 128-256MB RAM
Display Wireless MDWD 8.4" SVGA Transflective TFT
Digitizer Pressure-sensitive panel
Storage 5MB Internal Hard Disk in base unit
Size MDWD:8.7x6.4x1.2 inches/Toughbook:7.9x3.6x2.1 inches
Weight 1.5 lbs./2.1 lbs.
Power MDWD: 1,800mAh/Toughbook: 2 x 1,800mAh Li-Ion
Interface Mini-USB, serial, wireless display, port replicator
Options Port replicator, batteries, AC adapter, holster, RAM
Price inquire with Panasonic
Contact Panasonic