There are more than a few ways to be a member of the mobile workforce. Some roles require a handheld computer and a wearable mobile printer. Others require a laptop, a briefcase and a frequent flyer card. The following is about the vehicle mobile workforce. These are the workers who go to the same office every day and their office is on wheels. They work in their cars and their trucks but they’re not drivers by trade. They have other jobs to do and they need computers to get those jobs done.
Sure, you could issue them a business class laptop computer with a vehicle power adapter and a mobile inkjet printer but workplace ergonomics and safety are important. You wouldn’t issue iPads and lawn chairs to your office workers and expect them to be productive, would you? Vehicle manufacturers consider ergonomics as they relate to driving, not computing. Consider the following as it relates to your vehicle fleet and its workers:
For most applications, a virtual keyboard is a compromise at best. That means either a laptop or a tablet combined with a keyboard, and standard issue electronics are not ideal for the task. Semi-rugged devices should be the minimum consideration and fully rugged laptops or tablets are preferred. Panasonic has a significant market share with their ToughBook and ToughPad products, but they’re not the only game in town. Dell has Rugged Latitude models to choose from. Patrol PC offers an Ultra-Rugged Tablet designed for permanent vehicle installation. L-Tron sells all of these products, and the market is full of other choices as well.
For tablet products, a keyboard is an advisable accessory. The best choice here is something durable, compact and sealed for protection. Backlighting is a great feature also. Again, there are many choices available. L-Tron prefers the iKey Illuminated Keyboard product line.
Not all mobile workers require a vehicle printer, but for those who do, I always recommend a thermal printer. Although there are inkjet printers that are marketed as “mobile,” I think a better description for these is “portable.” They’re useful to be carried along in a briefcase but don’t hold up as well as thermal printers when subjected to fixed mount vehicle use. For thermal printers, L-Tron relies on Brother Mobile Thermal Document and Receipt Printers and Zebra Mobile Thermal Printers.
Speaking of fixed mount, a well-planned mounting system is the most important factor for ergonomics and worker safety. Although many of the computers we’re talking about are referred to as laptops, using them in your lap isn’t very comfortable and an 8+ pound rugged computer sitting freely on a passenger seat is never a good idea. Our partner for vehicle mounting equipment is Havis. As a Platinum Reseller partner, my opinion may be biased, but I honestly do think they make the best mounting and docking products in the business.
USB (for power and data)
Most laptops and docking stations have adequate powered USB ports these days, but make sure you know that going in. When you have printers, wireless adapters, GPS receivers, camera systems and personal electronics seeking a USB port for charging, things add up. Make sure you have enough ports and then some, especially if you’re considering a tablet solution. If not, a powered USB hub is a low cost add-on that can make life a bit more convenient for the mobile worker. Unpowered hubs split the available power among ports, so a connection from a multi-port hub to vehicle power is a must.
For Law Enforcement
L-Tron has a lot of experience in the aforementioned vehicle computing products and much of it comes from the Law Enforcement segment. That said, I wouldn’t feel complete without mentioning our 4910 License Reader. Specifically designed for a vehicle environment, the 4910LR is designed to read data from PDF417 barcodes on driver’s licenses, capture signatures from ink on paper forms and capture basic grayscale images. It’s a must-have for any patrol vehicle performing electronic motor vehicle reports.
Hopefully some will find this post useful. I know it comes across as a bit of an infomercial, but the product examples seemed appropriate and so I linked to our partners. They’re not the only choices out there but we’ve chosen our partners based on years of experience and I believe they all represent the top choices of their respective markets. Feel free to add your own experiences in the comments.