Military service members perform missions all over the world in the most extreme environments imaginable. For airborne forces like parachutists, reliable mobile technology is a critical component of their mission to ensure both safety and success.
Airborne Systems is a parachute company that supplies military customers with the equipment needed to safely execute jumps from planes and helicopters during a variety of missions across the globe. In recent years, Airborne Systems decided to expand its offering by developing a navigation system to help navigate and land military parachutists safely in extreme environments.
“We needed to create a navigation system to help them determine where they are supposed to land, knowing how difficult that can be with wind and other weather elements,” said Vincent Mignot, Parachute Engineer at Airborne Systems.
Initially, Airborne Systems decided to try manufacturing their own system in-house. After facing some challenges, the company decided to integrate their navigation program with an off-the-shelf mobile computer.
“We realized that off-the-shelf products are good but they’re not really stable, they change a lot, and every time they change something, there’s the risk that our solution might not work anymore,” said Mignot.
That’s when Mignot and his team began to look for a rugged mobile computer to support the navigation system.
Airborne Systems’ “Pilot” solution measures data like wind speed, altitude and the user’s distance from the target. To run the “Pilot” solution, Airborne needed a handheld device with reliable connectivity that parachutists could easily operate mid-jump. Not only did the device need to be user-friendly, but it was imperative that the device could withstand the conditions of a jump and provide a readable-screen in both direct sunlight and complete darkness to safely navigate parachutists to the ground.
Airborne Systems turned to leading IT systems integrator Bizco to identify the right device to support the navigation system. Bizco lent Airborne several rugged devices to use in testing, including the Panasonic Toughpad FZ-X1 rugged tablet.
“We quickly realized Panasonic was the best – the quality of the screen, resolution and daylight-readability when jumping were all important to us,” said Mignot. “During jumps it can be very bright, and when testing the other devices, we couldn’t see anything on the screen. The Toughpad was easy to read and we were never really able to damage the devices during testing.”
“By far our customers all prefer the Panasonic device. A lot of customers ask if the device is IP certified and Mil-Spec tested – that’s very important to them. If you jump at night and land in a war zone or the middle of a desert, and your navigation system stops working, you’re in big trouble.”
In addition to its rugged design, the Toughpad FZ-X1 features a high-sensitivity 10-point capacitive multi-touch display that works with heavy gloves, or in pouring rain. Powered by a 14-hour hot-swappable battery, it also serves as a dependable and lightweight handheld tool to help complete missions once the user lands safely on the ground.