Data911’s fifth-generation mobile computer comes to APCO
Data911, Alameda, Calif., brought its rugged M5 mobile computer to the exhibition at APCO’s national conference in Nashville, Tenn.
Where some public safety agencies prefer off-the-shelf laptop computers, others want computers designed to withstand more stress than consumer products, Brett Hubbard, the company’s president, explained. He said that making a computer “rugged” involves designing it to withstand shock, vibration, wide variations in temperature and humidity, and strong sunlight.
Besides that, he said that Data911 goes to great lengths to push the envelope on technology, including offering the first 1 GHz sealed industrial computer and offering the first XGA 1024 X 1068 “high bright” display.
Hubbard said that a unique aspect of the M5 is that it exceeds the Ford Motor airbag requirements, which is important because Ford’s Crown Victoria is the predominant law enforcement vehicle.
“Most of the manufacturers say that their product is ‘airbag friendly.’ We’re airbag compliant,” Hubbard said.
The mobile computer provides the user interface of a keyboard, screen and touch screen control. Other pieces of a system would include mobile software and a radio infrastructure. Public safety agencies use the system to communicate with dispatch and records management.
Besides the computer, Data911 offers report-writing software.
The user interfaces with keyboard and screen and touch screen. Other pieces are the mobile software and the radio infrastructure. The full system communicates with dispatching and records management.
Hubbard said that customers use the computer for dispatch, database inquiries, report writing, mapping, vehicle location, mug shots, digital video recording and fingerprint capture.
He said that buying an M5 is not entirely unlike buying a desktop or laptop computer, saying that it would appeal to someone wanting a type of look, size and display, along with specifications for memory, processor speed, price, performance reputation, warranty and service programs.
Hubbard estimated that about 25 to 30 percent of the public safety industry uses computers in its vehicles, and he expects that to grow to 35 to 45 percent during the next few years.
Data911 also sells to commercial vehicle fleet owners, and to, gas, water and electric utilities.
The M5 is the company’s fifth-generation product.
“Our goal is to build systems that take advantage of newer technology, including better displays, faster processors, bigger hard drives and more memory for constant improvement. We’re also doing integration with hand-helds. Do you go with a laptop and take it in and out of the car, or use fixed mount. A lot of agencies are going with fixed-mount units and also hand-helds that either communicate through the nearby vehicle or with the overall RF structure,” Hubbard said.
He said that his company sees a need for a faster, less expensive wireless data infrastructure to benefit public safety agencies and let them take advantage of all of the available mobile data features.
Hubbard said that two main types of infrastructure serve mobile data systems, private RF and CDPD. He said that the larger public safety agencies are best suited for private RF backbones because they have control of it and own it, and private RF is more cost-effective in the long run. He said that CDPD is more effective for smaller departments that are budget-conscious and that don’t have so many vehicles that would make paying for modems too expensive.
“The biggest difficulty with both is throughput and cost. The biggest barrier facing many departments that otherwise would use mobile data is cost,” Hubbard said.
As an alternative to private RF and CDPD, some departments use 802.11b to connect mobile data terminals. Hubbard said one application for 802.11b is to connect hand-held computers with the vehicle-mounted computer. Another is to connect the host computer with vehicle-mounted computers when the vehicles are in the department parking lots. He said that alternative has been a cost-effective way to move data to and from the car without using removable media, but he said that it is not a wide-area solution.
Hubbard said that he hasn’t seen any service break the price barrier with 128 kbps speeds. He recalled the Metricom Ricochet infrastructure that offered 128 kbps with a lot of repeaters and routers for wide-area service. But he said the real need is to consider satellite-based networks that would serve public safety and general communities with wireless data.
“The tell-tale sign will be when we look at our wireless device and see each other three-or four-frames-per-second video in a cost-effective way. The consumer marketplace probably will be what drives inexpensive wireless data networks. That’s too bad, because the real important need is for public safety wireless data,” Hubbard said.