Tech Goes Rugged

By Leslie Meredith

Earlier this month, after a May directive gave U.S. troops access to previously blocked social networking sites, the U.S. military in Afghanistan launched a Facebook page, a YouTube site and Twitter feeds, to win the information war by providing faster, more accurate news to friends and foes. Just as military brass have recognized the benefits of civilian social networking sites, manufacturers of consumer electronics are producing an increasing number of products that meet military standards. Now you may not be fighting terrorists in the hills above Kabul, but a rugged computer or phone will withstand any conditions. And we all know a family week at the cabin can present as many tough challenges as a week of Army Boot Camp.

MIL-STD-810 is the military standard for equipment used by the Department of Defense and provides the test method standards for a wide variety of environmental conditions. Included in the standard are tests for low pressure to simulate altitude changes, exposure to high and low temperatures and sudden changes in temperature, rain, humidity, fungus, salt fog for rust, sand and dust, explosive atmosphere, leakage, acceleration, shock and transport shock, and vibration. Rugged equipment has been adopted by police officers, scientists working in harsh field conditions, and construction workers.

Hollywood uses rugged gear for futuristic props, albeit with a little help from the special effects department. In Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins, John Connor (Christian Bale) carries Glacier Computers’ rugged laptop, painted by the art department to look beat up, scratched and dirty – like it had been through the Apocalypse. But you don’t have to be in the military or the movies to benefit from ruggedized products: adventurous consumers are purchasing similar products for their durability and longevity.

Full military compliant electronics often cost twice as much as standard products, but semi-rugged laptops are available at a more reasonable price. Consider your environment, and select accordingly. Panasonic Toughbooks have been the sales leader in the rugged and semi-rugged laptop markets, but Dell recently introduced a fully rugged laptop that exceeds the comparable Toughbook in several key tests.


Dell’s Latitude E6400 XFR laptop is about as rugged as you can get. Its Ballistic Armor protection system meets military standards with the highest combined level of ingress protection rating (IP65, the 6 is for dust, the 5 for water) as any in its class. The casing provides twice the impact strength of magnesium alloy. It is the first laptop to exceed the military’s 3 foot drop spec (the average height when carrying a laptop). The XFR can be dropped from 4 feet, the height of a truck’s hood. The 14.1-inch wide screen is designed to be viewed easily in direct sunlight. We don’t recommend it, but you could probably check this rugged laptop at the Delta counter and pick it up from the baggage carousel unscathed.

Laptops are not the only rugged devices available. Cell phones include the Samsung Rugby (AT&T), Sanyo SCP-7050 (Sprint) and the i-mate 810-F smartphone, which can be fully submerged in water. Even if you’re not planning a trip down the Amazon, a phone that won’t break when it’s dropped from the kitchen counter or knocked into the pool has appeal.

Rugged electronics are on the rise. With new materials like graphene and processing technology like quantum computing in development, future rugged products may become lighter, faster and less expensive, able to withstand the rigors of three under three and the family dog.

Have a question? Email Leslie Meredith at

Tech Goes Rugged