Selecting a Rugged Device for High Altitudes and Vibrations

Resistance to vibration and high-altitude are two aspects of rugged mobile devices that can be easily overlooked. Being resistant to drops and knocks is not the same quality as being resistant to continual or prolonged vibrations. While not all mobile workers need to consider the effect that lower atmospheric pressure has on a hard drive, those who work in mountainous regions and/or need to operate a laptop in an unpressurised environment such as a helicopter or cargo plane, will find a resistance to vibration and high altitudes is absolutely essential.

Not surprisingly, military standard equipment is built to withstand such environments. As part of the the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)’s MIL-STD-810G specifications (Mil-Spec) for rugged devices, two procedures in particular have been created to test vibrations and high-altitude:

  • Vibration Test: MIL-STD-810G Method 514.6 Procedure I – This test simulates the vibrations typically experienced in an off road vehicle or even helicopter mounted environment. Personnel who use devices in-vehicle, or workers conducting business on the road, need a reliable device to function in their everyday work environment. Mobile devices experience heavy vibration when mounted in jeeps, tanks or trucks; or in the public safety market, mounted in patrol cars, fire engines, ambulances and even helicopters. If you think you’ll be operating a laptop in any of the above environments you should ask your supplier a few simple questions: Was the device operating during the test? Was it mounted during testing as it actually would be in use? Ask about the specific conditions and duration of testing to ensure they mirror the types of environments your workers will face in the field. Also, ask what parameters the manufacturer set for the test conditions. This could be anything from simulating gentle driving on paved surfaces to a rocket launch. For helicopter mounting, make sure the units are tested using Category 24 of this test.
  • Altitude Test: MIL-STD-810G Method 500.5 Procedure II – This performance test is conducted on a device in an altitude chamber simulating 15,000 feet or more above sea level, while operational. Workers collecting valuable data or leveraging data to make mission-critical decisions in high-altitude locations can’t easily replace a failed device. This situation can be a challenge for standard hard drives, where the needle floats on a cushion of air above the platter. With the reduced atmosphere at 15,000 feet or more, it is much easier for vibrations to cause an impact between the needle and the platter. Conducting this test simulates use in an unpressurized cargo aircraft or in mountainous locations. For unpressurized aircraft environments, ask if the device was also tested for vibration to see how a standard hard drive will hold up. You should also ask about the altitudes simulated if you anticipate using the device in mountainous regions above the altitude for which it’s been tested.

To learn more about the standards of Mil-Spec testing and questions you should ask before investing in rugged, visit our whitepaper, and for more information on Panasonic’s line of rugged computers and tablets, visit