Military Embedded Systems

Rugged SFFs for vehicles


March 20, 2009

Don Dingee

Contributing Editor

Military Embedded Systems

A vehicle in today's environment can be almost anything from a fully rugged land combat vehicle to an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) or helicopter to a marine vessel. The degree of harshness a computer must endure varies, as do the types of interfaces the platform needs to support. Several examples show the range of Small Form Factor (SFF) platforms designed for today's vehicle-based needs.

Figure 1: Digital Systems Engineering VMC-10

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The VMC-10 mobile computer from Digital Systems Engineering (Scottsdale, Arizona, provides a ruggedized platform with quick-release mounting. Targeting applications like electronic flight bags, sea-based vehicles, and vehicles used for aircraft maintenance, the platform combines ruggedness with fanless operation of an Intel Celeron M processor, memory, and disk drive. Open interfaces like LVDS, Ethernet, and USB fill out the 5.5 lb. package.

Figure 2: General Micro Systems S702

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Smaller and more rugged is the General Micro Systems (Rancho Cucamonga, California, S702, which GMS CEO and founder Ben Sharfi likes to call "the most powerful processor for its size and weight available." At 5.25" x 5.25" x 2" and 2.5 lbs., with a fanless 2.16 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo and chipsets inside, he might be right. Interfaces include SATA, dual GbE, graphics, USB, and a Mini PCI socket for user I/O. Sharfi indicates that units are undergoing test drives at facilities in Aberdeen and Fort Huachuca in a couple of unnamed vehicle applications. Something this small could certainly go on most UAVs.

Figure 3: Azonix BattleTRAC

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Another platform targeting land vehicles is the Azonix (Houston, Texas, BattleTRAC. It's a fully functional computer with processor, USB, Ethernet, graphics, audio, and more. It comes in a tough box sealed to IP54 watertight protection and engineered to MIL-STD-810F testing for shock, vibration, and environmental protection. But the interesting features are the vehicle-specific wrinkles. The platform is designed with a modular I/O panel to avoid rewiring vehicles by matching the panel to the application. It has dedicated DC input filtering and conditioning to guard against things like load dumping, jump starting, and other inductive transients in vehicle electrical systems. The unit also has a run-on timer to keep it going after the driver has left the vehicle, perhaps while uploading or downloading data.

Figure 4: Nauticomp NINA

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In a different direction aimed at marine navigation is the Nauticomp (Lindsay, Ontario, Canada, NINA processor. These SFF systems contain boards and components treated with VCI-III corrosion-resistant coating to provide water and salt spray resistance. The boards are then shock-mounted inside the chassis to form a semi-rugged unit. All the usual desktop features are there – Intel Core 2 Duo processor, SATA hard drive, DVI-I video output, GbE, USB, and even a three-year onsite limited warranty from Dell. These are probably not full MIL-SPEC capable, but certainly can serve the needs for commercial or personal maritime craft.

Figure 5: Raytheon Solipsys iTAC

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In a portable application intended for the war fighter's or first responder's pocket is the Raytheon Solipsys (Laurel, Maryland, iTAC solution. Using a wireless handheld PDA like the HP iPAQ, iTAC provides real-time access to vehicle and sensor data, along with high-resolution maps, weather information, and more to deliver a full situational awareness picture into the hands of those who need immediate feedback. The device fits within an open architecture framework gathering information from C4ISR data feeds and is designed to download the application over a secure VPN, so nothing needs to be installed or maintained on the PDA.

While we often think of rugged boxes as big, armor-plated behemoths, this sample shows the range of innovative technologies being designed into SFF platforms. Putting the right amount of compute power in the right space is making vehicles smarter, getting information into the right hands faster, and creating better experiences for users.