Rugged laptop a weapon for police Alliant develops PCs for use in patrol cars

April 15, 1996|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

As a defense contractor, Alliant Techsystems Inc. developed high-tech electronic systems used in foreign deserts and jungles in wartime.

But with the ebb of defense contracts, the 36-year-old technology company has turned its expertise to the home front and the war against crime.

The company's technology division, based in Annapolis, has developed what it calls a "ruggedized" laptop computer that can survive extreme temperatures and sharp blows. It is equipped with antennae that allow police officers to stay in contact with dispatchers.

Alliant is among a handful of companies in the world that make "ruggedized" computers.

"Computers were designed to sit in an office at room temperature," said Robert A. Wainer, manager of mobile products and systems for Alliant's technology division. "They weren't designed for harsh conditions and field work. So when IBM said, 'Hey, we've got customers who need some degree of ruggedized computers,' we said, 'Hey, we'd love to.' "

Working with the University of Maryland's CALCE Electronic Packaging Research Center, Alliant two years ago began revamping the IBM notebook computer, he said.

Now, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol is working with Alliant "to get the bugs out and tweak it to meet our needs," said First Sgt. Woody F. Sandy, who is coordinating the laptop project.

The department is the first in the nation to use one version of Alliant's rugged computers through a pilot program funded by a $500,000 grant from the Federal Highway Administration.

Once the software is loaded into the system, Sergeant Sandy said, 42 troopers will be equipped with the laptops to check federal, state and local law enforcement files on the road without going through a dispatcher. A background check on a driver's license will take less than 12 seconds, Sergeant Sandy said.

TC 'Expecting great things'

"It seems to be going very well," he said. "We're very excited about it. Our goal is that the officer will be able to transmit the report over the system and never have to walk into the office. We're expecting great things."

There are three versions of the computer. One allows officers to enter information with a stylus and the other two use standard keyboards. To protect against moisture or damage in a fall, two have shock-absorbing black rubber boots and one is encased in magnesium metal.

The computer allows officers to quickly check criminal files and is capable of flashing photos of wanted people on its screen.

Demand growing

"Officers can now talk to victims and witnesses and fill out their reports simultaneously as they walk around a police scene without having to run back to headquarters to type in their paperwork," Mr. Wainer said. "It eliminates a lot of time spent in the office."

Demand for "ruggedized" laptop computers is growing in the emergency service industry throughout the country, said Sgt. Charles K. Standiford, who is coordinating the Baltimore County Police Department's computer laptop program.

Baltimore County plans

Alliant has not marketed its product in Maryland, but the Baltimore County department has been examining Alliant's computers and others for a program that would put 45 laptops in the Cockeysville precinct and Western traffic unit.

"If we have a typical [driving while intoxicated] arrest, we actually have five reports to fill out," Sergeant Standiford said.

Faster reporting

It takes about three hours to process a prisoner and two weeks for data entry operators to put the reports in the main computer system, he said. The rugged laptops, which feed information directly into the system, will allow court officials to get a report on incidents much faster.

"It will speed up all aspects of the system," Sergeant Standiford said.

Pub Date: 4/15/96

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