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Algiz XRW in Diving and MARINE EXPLORATION

Handheld Algiz XRW compact rugged notebook computer boosts safety, productivity and data capture on marine underwater expedition to remote archipelago off the Pacific coast of Mexico. 

Challenge

Aboard a live-aboard dive boat, the ability to view and edit dive videos, upload and review dive computer data, and use GPS to log route information enhances a trip. But non-rugged computers just aren’t up to the environment on a dive boat. 

Solution

Using the compact Algiz XRW notebook with a sunlight-readable display on deck allows an immediate upload of data and geo-tagged navigation information. Plus it allows you to visually inspect the dive computer’s dive profile instantly. 

Result

With the Algiz XRW rugged notebook divers can enter data and impressions immediately, when every detail is still fresh in the diver’s mind. - And divers don’t have to worry about wet and dripping dive equipment or running out of battery time.

 

In June of 2011, editors of RuggedPCReview.com and ScubaDiverInfo.com traveled on the 112-foot Solmar V to the Archipelago Revillagigedo, a remote group of uninhabited islands 480 kilometers (300 miles) off the Pacific coast of Mexico, to test a variety of rugged and underwater equipment while surveying the status of the shark and giant manta populations these islands are famous for. Part of the test equipment arsenal was Handheld’s rugged Algiz XRW notebook computer. It would become a valuable member of the team in more than one respect.

The volcanic island of San Benedicto, in particular, is famous for its prevalence of Giant Pacific Mantas. Manta rays (Manta birostris) are massive filter feeders that can reach a width of 7.6 meters (25 feet) and a weight of almost 1.300 kilograms (3.000 pounds). Mantas are among the most majestic, graceful and an elegant creature on earth and seeing them in their natural habitat is a breathtaking, awe-inspiring experience.

Computers in diving and marine exploration

Computers play several major roles in dive expeditions. Dive computers are crucial life support equipment for divers. Logs from dive computers are then uploaded into mobile computers for analysis and documentation. The mobile computers are also used for trip notes and narrative, image and video storage and pre-processing, as well as geotagging and navigation.

Scuba diving is an equipment-intensive activity where there is essentially no margin for error. When hovering off a wall a hundred feet below the ocean surface, you rely on your regulator to supply air, on your buoyancy compensator to keep you from dropping into the abyss below you and from rising too quickly and risking an air embolism or other life-threatening conditions. All scuba divers learn diving physics and how to use dive tables to determine maximum exposure to depth and allowable depths on repetitive dives. While dive tables remain important backups, today divers almost exclusively rely on dive computers.

Dive computers are either wrist or console-mounted and keep track of depth, dive time, water temperature, remaining bottom time, decompression stops, and remaining air. They are complex instruments that must be 100% reliable as the diver's life can depend on it.

Computed data, which changes with time stayed at different depths, determines how much remaining safe dive time a diver has, and what decompression stops must be made, if any. Dive computers have numerous configurable alarms and settings, and they usually work in conjunction with a desktop or notebook computer application. The dive computer also datalogs the entire dive so that it later can be uploaded into the notebook. In the past a dive team had to wait until they got back to their camp to upload and analyze dive data and fill out dive logs. This often meant several hours between a dive and filling out the log. It also means not being able to visually inspect the dive profile, exertion levels, gas consumption, tissue saturation levels and alarms immediately after the dive.

Using the Handheld XRW rugged notebook computer onboard

Using the Algiz XRW, a rugged notebook computer from Handheld as a dive and expedition support computer changed all that. The team from RuggedPCReview.com and ScubaDiverInfo.com took the Algiz XRW onboard the Solmar V and uploaded dive data as soon as they came out of the water using a USB-based IR adapter that communicated with Uwatec SOL dive computers. This allowed entering data and impressions immediately after a dive when everything was still fresh in the diver’s minds and they remembered detail. It also allowed them to change dive computer settings and fine-tune them to the dives at hand.

Using a computer on a boat means it needs a daylight-readable display. The Algiz XRW's very bright daylight-readable high-res display is uniquely suited for outdoor use and work in direct sunlight. During an 8-day expedition the dive team encountered anything from bright sunshine to gray skys and a good deal of wind and saltwater spray. The Algiz XRW display easily handled all lighting conditions and was perfectly viewable at all time. ”The readability of the display is, in fact, absolutely amazing, prevailing even against the blazing sun” says Conrad Blickenstorfer, Editor-in-Chief, RuggedPCReview.com.

While the covered dive deck of the boat provided some protection from the elements, it was still outdoors and in the midst of wet and dripping dive equipment and divers. Being used on the dive and observation decks also included exposure to surf, spray and the occasional wave washing over the front or sides.

This is where the Algiz XRW's IP65 sealing came in handy. The Algiz XRW is not submersible, but the IP65-rating means protection against low pressure water jets from all directions, so water spray on a dive boat won't hurt it. The sealed 90%-scale keyboard inspires confidence and is fully usable. The white on black letters are clearly visible at all times. Using the navigation pad with wet hands occasionally requires firmer touch, but it works.

Space was at an absolute premium onboard and especially in the tiny cabins, so the dive team appreciated the Algiz XRW's compact size that made it fit where much larger (and non-rugged) laptops didn't. The Algiz XRW is also light enough not to add too much to the already considerable burden of hefting around scuba tanks and other bulky equipment. Also much appreciated was the Algiz XRW's long battery life. The beefy 58 watt-hour battery is good for eight hours of operation, more than enough to remain reliably available over the three or four dives the team usually did each day.

“I can't say enough for the peace of mind afforded by the Algiz XRW's ruggedness” says Conrad Blickenstorfer. “Life on a dive deck is rough. It's wet, it's slippery, and there's lots of heavy equipment that can and will fall. Definitely not a place for MacBooks and iPads, but the Handheld Algiz XRW fit right in.”

Few recreational divers upload their dive computer data into a notebook for analysis, even though this provides an important record of dives performed. For professional assignments, however, uploading and analyzing dive data is a must. Having a suitable mobile computing platform on location makes this task easier and allows uploading and analyzing right after dives. This can be invaluable. Theoretically, almost any notebook computer could be used for the job. In practice, size, ruggedness, outdoor-viewability and battery life requirements made the Algiz XRW perfect for the job.

The Algiz XRW contributed in other areas as well; its high resolution display meant that the team used it to examine the hours of 720p and even 1080p video that was filmed underwater. This wasn't possible with standard netbooks that the team had taken on earlier trips, but the XRW easily played back the video from their underwater cameras.

During the trip the dive team also used the Algiz XRW's integrated GPS to determine position, speed and heading. They used free or demo versions of several marine navigation applications, including Polar Navy's PolarView navigation package and PolarCOM NMEA instrument display; the Sea Clear II chart plotter and GPS navigation software; and the Fugawi Marine ENC GPS navigation software. All worked well with the Algiz XRW and provided an interesting insight into the use of rugged sealed notebooks for marine navigation.

Conrad Blickenstorfer rounds off: “Our equipment, worked flawlessly. Keeping track of our dives, storing and reviewing pictures and videos, and just generally having a computer whenever and wherever we needed it contributed to safety, productivity as well as staying on our busy schedule”.