Field Research: Tracking Bats with the Toughbook 19

Rivers, lakes and bad roads never stopped Mark Gumbert’s team from tracking bats, but inadequate equipment did.

Mark Gumbert, founder and president of Copperhead Environmental Consulting, and his team spend about three weeks every spring researching and tracking bat migrations for both independent and government-commissioned research and need computers that can withstand the terrain, weather and team members’ abuse in critical situations. “We’re pretty brutal on equipment,” Gumbert said.

Gumbert has been tracking bat migrations since 2009, but has been tracking foraging bats since 1993 when calculations were done with a paper map and pencil. “By the time you were done calculating a bat’s location, 10 minutes had passed, and the bat had already moved,” he said. “Now, with computers, the data is almost instant.”

When Gumbert and his team began using laptops they would follow the bats in their vehicles and airplane and track them with GPS software. “The Dell computers we initially used got really hot sitting on our laps and caused static interference with our receiver, which covered up the signal from the bat’s transmitter,” Gumbert said. The devices often fell out of the vehicles resulting in cracked screens and requiring many to be replaced.

Given the reliability issues, Mark and his team were afraid to take these laptops into the field, especially when it was humid outside. The fragility of the devices negated the value of having a mobile solution.  After experiencing numerous failures, they decided to look for laptops that could operate in extreme weather and handle the occasional drop.

The company started looking into Toughbook PCs. The team was looking for something that was rugged yet portable and had electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), which would prevent interference from the avionics and other electronic equipment in the vicinity.

They decided to go with three Panasonic Toughbook 19s. The team liked the 19’s durability and its ability to function in extreme weather. Since the team faced electronic interference issues in the past, the Toughbook 19’s MIL-STD461F certification ensured the Toughbook mobile computers would be electromagnetically compatible with other nearby electronics. They also really liked the backlit keyboards, since much of the team’s work takes place at night.

Piper Roby, biologist and project manager at Copperhead Environment Consulting, works on the ground crew and uses the Toughbook 19 with mapping software to track the bats. “I really like the touch screen in tablet function,” Roby said. “Our team is really rough on equipment and the Toughbook 19s allow us to do our jobs more easily. It makes being in the field a lot more enjoyable since we no longer have to worry about something going wrong with equipment.”

“If a Toughbook device can withstand our brutal team, it can withstand anything,” Gumbert said.