“Marginal gains” add up – all improvements matter when you’re relying on rugged technology to save lives.

Steve Priestley, Xplore VP

Steve Priestley is International Vice President of Xplore Technologies, the US-based tech business which has for more than 20 years built perhaps the world’s most rugged of rugged tablet tech, used operationally in sectors ranging from the US military to hospital and prehospital frontline clinicians worldwide. Based on Xplore’s experience, Steve is a firm believer that the effectiveness of EMS teams is increased by putting the right tools in the hands of the field operatives – and a true understanding of rugged is key. In the healthcare environment, where even the most marginal of advantages provided by the very best rugged devices can save lives, he suggests that understanding exactly what a rugged tablet can add to clinical performance is critical. Ambulance Today Editor, Dec Heneghan, met with Steve recently to find out how using the very best rugged devices can also add up to huge knock-on efficiencies. Read on to find out more.


Steve Priestley is perplexed, but his Yorkshire-deadpan face hardly gives it away. He needs another phrase to replace the now worn-out “marginal gains” in describing just what a difference rugged technology – near- everything-proof tablet PCs – can make. One rugged device makes an operational difference: widespread adoption is a complete game changer, or a life changer in EMS terms.
The diplomatic issue is perhaps more challenging for the International Vice President of Xplore Technologies which launched the rugged tablet to the market more than 21 years ago, well before the advent of consumer tablet products.

“The majority of UK and European ambulance services and HART and HART- equivalent organisations are absolutely on the case with rugged technology, and the difference it can make to field effectiveness in carrying out the primary job of saving people’s lives,” says Steve.

“The world of  EMS is complex and relies on the individual services collaborating in the most difficult of circumstances, and more frequently in the toughest of environments. The teams need to know the tech is up to it and that they can rely on each other. Our job is to help educate on what is the best tech.
“We, like our competitors, supply ambulance and EMS around the world. That means we see what the best are doing, and what the most-challenged have to battle every day.

“The problem, at times, can be simultaneously the most visible and invisible of features, but there are commercial complexities- and not all budgets are created equal, just like all rugged devices are not equal.


“To those who are not absolutely up to speed on technology – and, in fairness they may not even know their lack of knowledge is an issue – a consumer grade tablet in a rugged protective case may appear to be just the job; it certainly appears cheaper.

“After all, while the biggest issue most of us encounter is a cracked screen if we drop our personal device, an EMS professional needs to keep working in this and much, much worse scenarios. Let’s not forget, for paramedics and other healthcare users, ‘marginal gains’ are key – all improvements matter when you’re relying on technology to save lives.

“In the commercial sector, we come across all manner of tech failures: dropped devices, malicious damage, overheating, cold temperature and moisture, and these failures impact on the company, employee and individual. Our job is to mitigate as much as we can and just keep working. As an example, the operating temperature range of rugged can be minus 30C to plus 70C. Consumer grade gets nowhere near that.

“Let’s not lose sight of the fact that consumer grade tablets are extremely good. But they’re not specifically designed for extreme conditions. Rugged connections and fixings are significantly stronger and more robust and are fundamentally designed to work anywhere, tested against standards involving the equivalent of being bolted to a bin lorry for a thousand miles of pot-holed tarmac.

“There’s separate antennae for GPS and data, meaning it’ll stay connected to the very last metre of coverage while being able to download essential data at the same time. Screen glass is super-strong, and unaffected by moisture.

“Now, in business it’s a cost issue. In EMS, it’s not just a cost issue – it’s a life issue, whether for rescued or rescuer.

“That marginal gain of connectivity or data download speed may save minutes or even seconds and go barely noticed, but, in the EMS world, seconds are vital in a very personal way. Literally a matter of life or death. That makes it a very big consideration.

“It’s pretty normal these days to watch somebody meandering around looking at their screen trying to get a single bar of coverage. In personal and business life it’s an inconvenience. We live with it. Not in EMS.


“And try hot-swapping a consumer grade battery halfway through a shout, or switching a failed component in minutes or even seconds in the field.
“There are numerous models  which will address just about any  EMS requirement, and their physical appearance and features make that very evident.  But the invisible features can be a much bigger issue.
“Techies will know what IP67 certification is all about. In-the-field users don’t need to know what it’s about: they’re likely to be HART teams, and they’re likely to be immersed in an incident or environment when the last thing on their mind is just how important those two letters and two digits are.

“The technical definition and description is extensive. What the user needs to know is that if they go into a hazardous environment involving volatile chemicals, potentially explosive dust, flammable liquids or gasses, and they’re using an IP67-certified Xplore XC6 tablet for instance – a truly ultra-rugged piece of equipment – then it’s not going to spark an explosion.


“If they drop it in up to three feet of water for half-an-hour, then it’s not going to fail. If it’s a sandy or dry dust environment, then that sand and dust will not get inside and corrode it. And the screen will work wet or dry with gloves.

“But, as always, it’s all down to the bottom line.

“No big sell here,” says Steve. “Understand the true influence and capability of a genuine rugged device, then understand the true total cost of ownership (TCO). It’s likely to be less than the TCO of consumer grade devices, but with far better output. Maybe the biggest challenge facing designers of rugged technology right now is helping our end-users understand this fact.”


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