Panasonic sets sail on ultra mobile PCs

Mississauga, Ont. – Panasonic may have created the rugged notebook category with its Toughbook product many years ago. Today, it tries to do the same in ultra mobile PCs, with the release of its CF-U1.

The CF-U1, which will carry the Toughbook brand, is the fruit of a joint venture with Intel and the chip maker’s Atom processor initiative.

The Atom chip is a low-power consumption processor that is designed for small form factors. It packs 47 million transistors on a single chip smaller than a dime.

However, before the CF-U1 unit, which looks like a Blackberry on steroids, hits the market, it will help Derek Hatfield sail around the world.

Hatfield is the skipper of the Spirit of Canada yacht, which will participate in the Vendee Globe single-person world sailing race starting Nov. 9th in France. The race is considered one of the harshest competitions in the world because one person must man a sailboat unaided, non-stop for 30,000 miles against 27 other sailors. The race starts in France and the competitors must navigate through the Cape of Good Hope on the southern tip of Africa and Cape Horn on the southern tip of South America. The race also crosses the southern oceans of Antarctica and makes it way to the finish at Les Sables d’Olonne in France.

According to Hatfield, freezing conditions, hurricane force winds, huge rolling waves, isolation, icebergs, and sleep deprivation are the main challenges of this race.

“The psychological part is the toughest. The Toughbook offers me the single most important aspect for me personally. Without it I cannot communicate with family, loved ones and outside influencers. You could not do this race without one,” he said.

Hatfield added that the Panasonic Toughbook CF-U1 is the notebook of choice for all the skippers in Vendee Globe race.

Last year Hatfield came in third place, but was challenging for the win until his boat capsized off Cape Horn. His mast was destroyed and Hatfield had to make another one by himself in Argentina to continue the race. The incident cost Hatfield 16 days, along with his on-board computer and several other pieces of equipment.

Hatfield, who is one of 126 people to have single-handedly sailed around the world, considers the computer as the second most important piece of equipment just after the auto-pilot that drives the boat.

“All tactical and analysis of the weather is done on the computer. The rest of the boat is a craw space that is not even painted to save on weight. The computer gives me all access to the Web and the satellite phone,” Hatfield said.

The CF-U1 weighs 1.06 KG with a 16GB solid state removable drive. It also has a 5.6-inch WSVGA sunlight viewable screen with anti-glare and anti-reflective LED backlighting. The unit has been tested to drop from 122 centimeters. It’s build with a magnesium alloy chassis that can resist rain, spills, dust and hard vibrations. It can even bake in temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius or freeze in minus 20 degree Celsius and still be operational.

Magnus McDermid, director at Panasonic Canada, which is sponsoring the Spirit of Canada boat, said the CF-U1 allows people to take applications that are not necessarily accessible into the field and achieve a balance with portability and functionality. He believes this unit, priced at $2,399, will open up new markets for Panasonic and its channel partners.

“It think it will change the way rugged is looked at,” he said.

Anand Chandrasekher, Intel’s senior vice-president and general of the company’s Ultra Mobility Group, said the CF-U1 is a great example of what can be done with the Atom chip’s low power and new mobile form factor designs to create long battery life.

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Paolo Del Nibletto
Paolo Del Nibletto
Former editor of Computer Dealer News, covering Canada's IT channel community.

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