Probably the biggest advances in computer technology in the last few years have involved not processors or memory, but the housings in which these components are installed. For many years, computers were regarded as fragile, expensive tools that needed to be carefully protected with dust covers, discharged of static electricity, and kept in ideal temperatures and humidity.
But now there is a whole different expectation. Users expect their machines to tolerate conditions that would have been considered abuse by tech mavens of the 1980’s. Dust, heat, cold, moisture, you name it. Full function is expected regardless.
Why does it matter? Shouldn’t machines still be safely ensconced in an office space somewhere, protected from the elements?
The answer is, of course, no. For all the wonderful home- and office-based functions of computers today, there are countless others that require the technology to be used out in the elements. The need for such uses has driven the industry to develop an exterior toughness that matches the interior performance. The result is ever-faster computer module technology housed in a body that protects it well enough to do its work in almost any environment.
These are some of the fields that are asking the most of computers and powering the move toward tougher machines with in-the-elements readiness:
Gathering & Using Data.
Most of the prediction done in modern meteorology is handled through computer modeling. These complex calculations require huge amounts of real-time data from thousands of locations. There’s no way that human observations of analog instruments could collect those measurements in a timely fashion, so weather stations throughout the world must have durable computer equipment to gather and send information into the system for the constant recalculation of weather predictions.
In a related field, research of all kinds utilizes computer-supplied data. Precision agriculture is just one example. This system juxtaposes GPS locations of farm fertilizing implements with small-plot soil test data to manage precise placement of fertilizers. As a result, the healthier soils receive less fertilizer and weaker areas receive more. This improves crop yields and reduces expenses and pollution from unneeded fertilizer.
But the PC’s of the 1990’s couldn’t have been installed in a tractor to send fertilizer adjustment commands to the implement. It takes heat- and dust-resistant equipment to make this impressive technology work.
No climate control in the home–or wherever you are. Time spent on the move and in the elements. And a desperate need for information. It’s a perfect application for a tough computer, and survival experts have already created a wide range of informational materials that can provide education outside of mainstream media. Imagine the benefit to citizens trapped in a city during a Mideast skirmish, or to people blocked in with a massive snowfall. The help available via computer is priceless, but it’s only available if the technology can survive too. Preparedness now goes beyond canned food and bottled water to include computers and tablets.
The classic line from a small-town cop to a speeder is, “Where’s the fire?” In reality, that question is ever-harder to answer for the real firefighters, as well as emergency medical services, law enforcement, and others. Fast-growing urban areas add streets faster than crews can learn them. Short staffing requires personnel to operate in parts of the city where they don’t normally work. and the incredible volume of radio traffic by police leads to delays in checking criminal histories on suspects. In addition, complex medical documentation required of paramedics for treatment and billing has made paper charting obsolete.
These demands have brought emergency personnel of all kinds into the computer age, and they need tablets and laptops that will function in a fire truck, police car, or ambulance.
The greatest roadblock to opening doors to countless new ways of using computers has finally been cleared. Now that these machines can go almost anywhere the user goes, their full potential to serve is being realized.