Some handhelds now rugged enough to disinfect

The definition of computer ruggedness has changed.

At FOSE 2003 today in Washington, several vendors touted their handheld computers' resistance not only to the military essentials'dust, moisture and shock'but also to sterilization by steam or bleach after use by first responders in biochemical emergencies.

The $3,000 Toughbook CF-18 from Panasonic Computer Solutions Co. of Secaucus, N.J., won't be released until next week, but representatives at the Panasonic booth said the Tablet PC will be 'ruggedized enough to steam-clean.' The $2,599 Toughbook 01 wireless handheld, which isn't quite that moisture-resistant, has an optional Global Positioning System module.

Vince Menzione, public-sector vice president of Itronix Corp. of Spokane, Wash., said the company recommended putting its rugged GoBook Max systems "into the dishwasher, with all ports open" when the FBI bought some for use by a team assigned to hunt weapons of mass destruction.

The $5,295 ix104 Rugged Tablet PC from Xplore Technologies Corp., distributed by Symbol Technologies Inc. of Holtsville, N.Y., has fortified corners with embedded wireless antennas, a magnesium case, and sealed ports for Universal Serial Bus 2.0, Ethernet and other types of connections.

Psion Teklogix Ltd. of London demonstrated its new, rugged Netpad handheld immersed inside a fish tank. Government mobile computing manager Dennis Castor said the Netpad's government price is not yet set, but the device can survive 3-foot immersion, withstand a 1.5-meter drop and work in temperatures as low as 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

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