The smartphone is such an integral part of modern life that it’s only natural to see battlefield adaptations. Today’s novelty comes from Swedish defense giant Saab, and goes by “Soldier sPAD,” to give the convenience and utility of a small touch-screen computer, but make sure it can actually work in the kind of situations where soldiers might find iPhones or Androids lacking.
You only have two hands and you need them in combat. This fact means that a handheld unit must not only be easy to operate, but also one hand operated. Saab’s Soldier sPAD system consists of two main parts: a rugged handheld pad and a connection hub allowing individual placement, peripheral connectivity and power support. Unlike a rugged computer, the sPAD is designed to be used with only one hand and is not much bigger than an iPhone. The symmetrical topmost layout of the buttons allows for one hand operation, left or right. Its rugged design is able to sustain the shocks and harsh environments in which soldiers often operate.
The phone itself weighs just about 6 oz., and the whole system, including battery, handheld tablet, cables between them, and pouches, clocks in at just under two pounds. The 3.7 inch pressure-sensitive screen of the sPAD is built to be used “with gloves, pens or any other item by putting pressure on the touch film.” The screen can both reflect light around it and be back-lit when ambient light is lacking. The sPAD is built to work in temperatures as cool as -22 degrees and as hot as 140 Fahrenheit, and can be safely stored in temperatures more extreme than those use parameters. There’s an option of a non-rechargeable battery with 16 hours of power, rechargeable batteries, and hot-swapping of batteries so the tablet can remain in use even while changing out its power supply.
As to what the tablet might actually be used for? App proliferation will invariably be constrained compared to commercial markets, but the present of a useful, touchable screen in the hands of troops means the possibilities are many and likely to be discovered through real-world use. Maps and communications are obvious. Displaying drone footage to an entire company through the tablet instead of just the drone operator could allow the formation to take advantage of real-time surveillance. Maybe tablets could even issue simple commands to mostly autonomous vehicles, allowing hunkered-down troops to play a bit of minesweeper in real life.