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The Itronix Alternative

Written by James Careless

Ruggedized laptop computers are a natural mobile data terminal for law enforcement use. However, the price of some of these computers can be tough for some departments to swallow. Lewis County in Washington State is one example. Covering 2,435 square miles south of Seattle, Lewis County has only 70,700 residents to supports its tax base. As a result, only one of the county’s nine cities and the Lewis County Sheriff’s Department (LCSD) had mobile data terminals (MDTs) in the 60-plus cars until recently because the department couldn’t afford the cost to equip them all.

In fact, it wasn’t until the county received a DHS Law Enforcement Terrorism Prevention Program (LETPP) grant to fund mobile data terminals that Lewis County started shopping around for them. After much research, the county decided to install Intronix GoBook VR-1 ruggedized laptops because the GoBooks provided a sufficient degree of toughness and functionality for in-car use at a low price.

Semi-Rugged GoBook VR-1

Most rough-use laptops, and that includes the Itronix GoBook VR-1, are designed to meet MIL-STD 810-F standards for vibration, humidity, and shock resistance. Itronix classifies its laptop as belonging to the “semi-rugged” class. In contrast, other laptops come in both “semi-rugged” and “rugged” configuration. If you need a laptop that can really take a pounding, you’ll need a true “rugged” laptop.

This said, most MDTs spend their lives sitting inside patrol cars. They may get jostled during high-speed cases and bumped over uneven roads, but chances are that they will operate in relatively constant temperatures, and with minimal humidity. This is why many mobile users can get by using semi-rugged laptops such as the GoBook VR-1.

The VR-1 is encased in a magnesium alloy shell with a shock-mounted hard drive and color 12-inch LCD display. It comes with a spill-resistant keyboard and palm rest, so that you can rest your right hand and coffee cup on this between chair pedestal-mounted unit while driving.

In terms of performance, the VR-1 comes with an Intel Centrino 1.86 GHz Pentium M Processor with 533 MHz FSB, 2MB L2 Cache. It uses Microsoft® Windows® XP. The VR-1 comes with 512 MB of RAM, which can be expanded to 2 GB RAM, and a 40 GB hard drive, which can be upgraded to 80 GB. The unit’s ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the LCD screen’s brightness, so that it can deal with sunshine and shadow. When out of the car, the VR-1’s battery can run for 4 to 6 hours (without using radios) using the laptop’s battery management PowerSaver utility.

To maximize communications, the VR-1 can be equipped with up to four internal radios:

WI-FI (“WLAN”), Cellular Data (“WWAN”), GPS, and Bluetooth. The VR-1’s optional built-in GPS receiver allows the laptop to track the patrol car’s position, and send this data back to dispatch in real time. Meanwhile, you can add a fingerprint scanner to the VR-1, to prevent unauthorized people from accessing its hard drive. If you do use fingerprint identification, be sure to have all officers register two separate fingerprints with the system. Otherwise, they might not to be able to get in should they get a cut on the finger that is registered with the VR-1’s security access program.

“We custom-tailor our VR-1’s to meet each customer’s individual requirements,” said Bob Morrow, Itronix’s regional sales manager. “We can do this because we make the laptops we sell at our factory in Spokane, Washington.”

Case Study: Lewis County

Price was the main reason Lewis County chose the GoBook VR-1 over other options. However, it wasn’t the only reason, said Patti Prouty, Lewis County’s director of central services.

“We were really impressed with the VR-1’s rugged yet light design, which weighs less than some options,” she said. “We also liked the VR-1’s optional GPS receiver, its lighted keyboard for nighttime use, and the VR-1 touch screen that allows officers to select options by touching the display. Add the expandable memory and hard drive, and the VR-1 met all the needs we were trying to fulfill within our grant budget.”

Now that the VR-1s have been installed in its cruisers, Lewis County’s officers have a wealth of information at their fingertips. Not only can they call up licenses and outstanding warrants, but they can even write up reports in their cars. Also, as soon as someone places a call to 911, the data goes directly to each cruiser’s VR-1. This means that they have the information at hand before dispatch puts out a call, allowing the nearest available patrol car to respond as soon as possible.

Also, the county’s VR-1’s are connected to the Web by wireless, allowing them to search for data, send e-mails, and coordinate with other departments easily during major emergencies. They can also search for the fastest way to the scene using onboard software maps, or by using online free services such as www.Mapquest.com.

According to the Lewis County News, local law enforcement agencies are pretty happy with their new MDTs. Being able to retrieve data and write reports in their cars is “gonna save us two hours and ten minutes a day,” said Napavine Police Chief Shelby Clements in an interview with the News. “That’s huge for us.”

The Verdict

The Itronix GoBook VR-1 has made it possible for Lewis County to bring its nine member police departments and one sheriff’s department into the 21st century. Now equipped with in-car data access and word processing, county officers can do their jobs faster and safer than ever before. The result is improved safety for officers and the general public.

The system has worked so well, in fact, that Lewis County has deployed VR-1s in its community development department vehicles and plans to add these units into county vehicles used for appraisals, inspections, and other duties that take place away from the office.

“Our officers have come to rely on their VR-1s,” said Patti Prouty. “In fact, in those rare times when the system goes down, we sure hear about it! They say they can live without them!”

James Careless is a freelance writer who specializes in first responder communications issues. He can be reached at jcareless5000@yahoo.com.

Published in Law and Order, Jun 2006

Rating : 10.0


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