Panasonic Toughbook 07
Unique wireless display pad makes information ultraportable (May 2002
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
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
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
||Mobile Intel Pentium III, 300MHz
||Wireless MDWD 8.4" SVGA Transflective TFT
||5MB Internal Hard Disk in base unit
||MDWD:8.7x6.4x1.2 inches/Toughbook:7.9x3.6x2.1 inches
||1.5 lbs./2.1 lbs.
||MDWD: 1,800mAh/Toughbook: 2 x 1,800mAh Li-Ion
||Mini-USB, serial, wireless display, port replicator
||Port replicator, batteries, AC adapter, holster, RAM
||inquire with Panasonic