Rugged electronics are vital to any project that needs sensitive electronics in hostile environments. Swamps, seas, or humid areas need tested and sturdy systems. Unfortunately, anyone with military or field experience can tell you that not all rugged devices are created equal. As you look through your options, take some military technician advice to avoid buttons that won't be mashed, screens that aren't really rugged and all sorts of pitfalls in the rugged device industry.
Controls May Be Too Protected
It's important to protect the controls of a rugged system, but it's possible to go too far. Many rugged systems use a metal plating over their button or dial system, which is then coated in rubber to absorb impact. The buttons may be painted with a direct coat of rubber, or a pre-made rubber cover can be placed over the system.
Buttons can be too hard. It doesn't matter if you have a rugged team of explorers or a stream of seasoned soldiers; if operators have to press their thumbs as hard as possible while gripping the device to enter information, a lot of wasted time and bent thumbs could ruin productivity.
When selecting a rugged control interface, make sure to test it out with the gear that the operators will have on. Test for multiple environments, such as wearing cold weather gloves, chemical protection equipment, or other gloves that make even sensitive devices hard to use. Being able to mash buttons carelessly can be a benefit over sensitive interfaces such as cell phones, but if the buttons are too small and require a lot of force, you may need to find another device.
You'll also need to consider night operations. Glowing interfaces are a must for almost every profession outside of combat operations. For teams that must avoid additional light from buttons at all costs, a tactile interface with raised numbers and letters that can be felt may be the best bet. Keep in mind that these buttons can be replaced when worn out.
Monitor Toughness Can Be Deceptive
Rugged monitors sometimes refer to the thickness of the screen rather than in-depth rugged protection. Sure enough, a thicker LCD screen with plastic is less likely to break than your standard computer monitor or phone, but there's a lot of work to be done.
The operator should never be able to touch the actual screen. There needs to be a secondary shield screen covering the main screen, which can be another liability if not planned correctly. Some cheaper rugged monitors use a piece of acrylic glass that can be damaged by caustic materials. Even cleaning solutions such as ammonia may cause the protective screen to wear away and become unreadable.
Contact a rugged monitor technician to explore your rugged systems options for your field operations.