Rugged mobile computers ready to keep up
Powerful hand-held devices have become commonplace and manufacturers of mobile computers for industry are having to adapt to changing client expectations.
But focusing on this ignores the impressive advancements made each year by companies whose focus is on mobile computer devices tough enough to go along for the ride with some of the world’s leading distribution providers.
Many logistics, storage and distribution companies are on their fifth and even sixth generation of rugged, hand-held mobile computers, using them to scan barcodes, instantly store and retrieve information, communicate with headquarters when out on the road, store client signatures using touch screen pen technology and many now even have inbuilt satellite navigation systems.
But now companies such as Honeywell, a leading manufacturer of high-performance image and laser-based data collection hardware, including rugged mobile computers and bar code scanners, is seeing smartphone culture have an influence on an industry that has always been at the forefront of innovation in mobile devices.
Eric de Greef, (pictured, above, right) Product Marketing Manager at Honeywell Scanning and Mobility, said: “The younger generation is so used to using smartphones and we are clearly seeing a trend towards a device without a keypad, something which is pocketable, no longer 500 grams, but below 200 grams.
“Some companies want something they can put in their pockets with more capacity in radio transmission, maybe also the ability to make a movie or colour pictures that can be sent back to base.
“Let’s say the smartphone is entering into our world, into our traditional automatic identification and data capture world.”
Already at the top
Hand-held devices themselves are however, miniature technological marvels to rival anything from the likes of Samsung or Apple.
When Honeywell recently partnered with world-leading parcel delivery service provider DPD, it was able to provide the company’s 12,000 delivery drivers with a device tailor-made for their needs, designed with input from transportation and logistics companies.
The Dolphin 99EX (pictured, below, right) from Honeywell is a computer that contains such things as imaging software, real-time voice and data communication and motion and light and proximity sensors that optimize screen and lighting for its current environment. But these state-of-the-art applications pale in comparison when you look at how much it’s most fundamental prerequisite function for the job has evolved.
The Dolphin 99EX can survive being dropped from a height of six foot (1.8 metres) onto concrete and has been proven in “tumble tests” to be fully operational after a total of 2,000 one metre drops. It was designed to withstand being dropped from someone’s hand or from a driver’s pocket numerous times.
De Greef added: “From our experience the most rugged and aggressive environments for computers are luggage handling and parcel delivery, using the device outside in the colder and wet conditions but also where the device is dropped.
“With parcel delivery it goes inside the vehicle, outside the vehicle, it is thrown into the back of the vehicle, it can drop from the hands of the deliverer when handing it to the end customer for the signature, or when he has to carry boxes together with the mobile computer.
“Some users are convinced that the smartphones they use in their private life are more powerful and offer more functions than what they get from their employer to use. But most of the companies are pretty reluctant to deploy a smartphone as the mobile device of the company; there are applications but they are still limited.”
More than keeping up
Honeywell and other companies are combining the pre-established industry-specific pedigree of their products with an acceptance of changing user expectations influenced by advances in the personal mobile device sector.
Soon the rugged mobile computers, already at the forefront of mobile technology with such features as laser scanners worn on the end of your fingers, will have adapted to offer multiple applications similar to smartphones.
De Greef said: “There is RFID coming (radio frequency identification - the wireless non-contact use of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data, to automatically identify and track tags attached to objects) very soon, there will be near field communication (devices establishing radio communication by being in close proximity) as well.
“Soon there will be five or six radios in the devices, with Bluetooth to connect to and some already have a mobile printer for ticket printing. There is traditional WAYLAN Wi-Fi for when they are working in the warehouse, phone calls and data transmission capabilities, GPS.
“But of course there will always be customers wanting a bigger device, with a big screen, bigger keypad, with a pistol grip for warehousing. Traditional rugged devices will never disappear but we also see that the more smartphone-like devices are coming into our space.”
Google and NIST Address Supply Chain Cybersecurity
As high-level supply chain attacks hit the news, Google and the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have both developed proposals for how to address software supply chain security. This isn’t a new field, unfortunately. Since supply chains are a critical part of business resilience, criminals have no qualms about targeting its software. That’s why identifying, assessing, and mitigating cyber supply chain risks (C-SCRM) is at the top of Google and NIST’s respective agendas.
High-Profile Supply Chain Attacks
According to Google, no comprehensive end-to-end framework exists to mitigate threats across the software supply chain. [Yet] ‘there is an urgent need for a solution in the face of the eye-opening, multi-billion-dollar attacks in recent months...some of which could have been prevented or made more difficult’.
Here are several of the largest cybersecurity failures in recent months:
- SolarWinds. Alleged Russian hackers slipped malicious code into a routine software update, which they then used as a Trojan horse for a massive cyberattack.
- Codecov. Attackers used automation to collect credentials and raid ‘additional resources’, such as data from other software development vendors.
- Malicious attacks on open-source repositories. Out of 1,000 GitHub accounts, more than one in five contained at least one dependency confusion-related misconfiguration.
As a result of these attacks and Biden’s recent cybersecurity mandate, NIST and Google took action. NIST held a 1,400-person workshop and published 150 papers worth of recommendations from Microsoft, Synopsys, The Linux Foundation, and other software experts; Google will work with popular source, build, and packaging platforms to help companies implement and excel at their SLSA framework.
What Are Their Recommendations?
Here’s a quick recap: NIST has grouped together recommendations to create federal standards; Google has developed an end-to-end framework called Supply Chain Levels for Software Artifacts (SLSA)—pronounced “Salsa”. Both address software procurement and security.
Now, here’s the slightly more in-depth version:
- NIST. The organisation wants more ‘rigorous and predictable’ ways to secure critical software. They suggest that firms use vulnerability disclosure programmes (VDP) and software bills of materials (SBOM), consider simplifying their software and give at least one developer per project security training.
- Google. The company thinks that SLSA will encompass the source-build-publish software workflow. Essentially, the four-level framework helps businesses make informed choices about the security of the software they use, with SLSA 4 representing an ideal end state.
If this all sounds very abstract, consider the recent SolarWinds attack. The attacker compromised the build platform, installed an implant, and injected malicious behaviour during each build. According to Google, higher SLSA levels would have required stronger security controls for the build platform, making it more difficult for the attacker to succeed.
How Do The Proposals Differ?
As Brian Fox, the co-founder and CTO at Sonatype, sees it, NIST and Google have created proposals that complement each other. ‘The NIST [version] is focused on defining minimum requirements for software sold to the government’, he explained, while Google ‘goes [further] and proposes a specific model for scoring the supply chain. NIST is currently focused on the “what”. Google, along with other industry leaders, is grappling with the “how”’.