Mobile satellite navigation equipment maker Navman has launched the latest version of its in-car system, the iCN630 V2. The advantage over some other systems is that it is portable and easily transferred between vehicles. It now offers a postcode search, where users enter five digits of the destination postcode and it comes up with the best route. If the user hears of traffic congestion on the suggested route, they can identify the problem area on the device and it will calculate an alternative route. It can also help drivers get back on track when they encounter an unexpected diversion. On a 3D screen measuring 3.8 in, the driver can select a 3D view of approaching towns appearing over the horizon or they can select a 2D view of the entire journey. The device uses the latest GPS navigation system and European mapping technology; maps of 15 European countries are supplied on a CD ROM and the user plugs the Navman into their PC and downloads the appropriate country map for their journey. The iCN630 V2 costs £999.
Email in the palm of your hand
Until now, the Blackberry mobile email service has only been used by large firms that could justify the cost of the software needed to forward emails from the corporate system to the handheld device. Manufacturer RIM has addressed this shortcoming with the launch of its Blackberry 7230 device, which doesn't need the special software and is therefore affordable for smaller firms.
The handheld device uses a service called Blackberry Web Client, a web-based system that sends any emails it receives to the Blackberry 7230 over the mobile phone network. The Web Client is set up to collect email from up to 10 email accounts and forward it to the device.
The Blackberry is primarily designed for email. Users can handle their email in the normal way – opening, deleting and sending messages – and view Word, Powerpoint, PDF and Excel attachments. The menu system is simple: emails appear in a list on the colour screen with date, sender and subject line. Emails deleted on the device will also be deleted on the desktop system.
The 7230 has a qwerty keyboard for sending email and text messages, and incorporates a mobile phone, web browser, organiser and memo pad. RIM says the 7230 has a talk time of four hours and a standby time of 10 days. It is available on T-Mobile, and Vodafone has just brought out a package aimed at small businesses and individuals.
With the Vodafone package, users can opt to pay £200 for the Blackberry, which comes with charger, holster and headset in addition to a 12-month contract at £20 a month and £2.35 for each MB of data exchanged. Alternatively the Blackberry can be purchased for £40 with a £45 monthly charge that also includes 200 minutes of calls.
Pen and paper go digital
Digital pens are comparatively new, bringing a digital spin to ordinary pen and paper. There are three products on the market made by Logitech, Sony Ericsson and Nokia. All supply a digital pen that is used to write on special notepaper with ballpoint ink, but also stores what has been written.
We tried out the Nokia version, the SU-1B (pictured). The pen is chunky, at 150 mm long and 23 mm across at its widest point. This is because it has to accommodate a rechargeable battery, a memory that can store up to 100 pages of A5 writing and a Bluetooth transmitter. It retails at £150.
There are two ways of downloading the information. It has a docking station that charges the pen up and connects it to a PC, so information stored in the pen can be downloaded into the supplied software. Alternatively the information can be sent via the Bluetooth connection to a compatible mobile phone as a multimedia message. This can then be mailed to compatible MMS phones.
The whole package is quick to set up and easy to use. A special pad is used to write or draw onto, and once the page is finished the user taps a box in the corner of the paper, which instructs it to send the message to a phone or storing for subsequent download to a PC. A downloaded image can be easily exported into an email application, Microsoft Word or Powerpoint.
What is appealing about the product is its comparative simplicity, all the user needs is the pen and the digitally enabled paper pad. It can be used on site to take notes or draw sketches, which can either be stored or sent to other members of a team for comment. A company called Sysnet is developing third party applications for the technology specifically for the construction industry. For example they are working on a package called "Snag Manager" that uses digital pen and paper to record and manage snags over a web-based database.
Tough notebook computers
Panasonic has launched five ruggedised notebook computers. There are two new models in the Toughbook Light range, these look like a normal laptop computers but are semi-ruggedised and can withstand a drop from 30 cm. The three fully ruggedised Toughbooks can stand more punishment including water, dust and drops from heights up to 90 cm.
Both Toughbook Lights have 12.1 inch screens and built in wireless connectivity. The CF-T2 weighs 1090 g and has a 900 MHz processor. The CF-W2 is heavier at 1290 g but has a built-in DVD/CD-RW drive and a 2.4 GHz processor. The Toughbook CF-18 is a tablet notebook; it functions like a conventional laptop except the keyboard folds right under the 10.4 inch touch sensitive screen. The CF-73 is said to be ideal for multimedia presentations with its 13.3 inch screen, standard DVD-ROM pack and stereo speakers. The CF-29 is the toughest of them all and is dust-, shock- and vibration-resistant to military standards. Prices range from £1938 for the Toughbook Lights to £3407 for the CF-29.
Waterproof two-way radio
Icom has launched a waterproof mobile two-way radio called the IC-F51. The company describes it as being shock and dust proof, making it ideal for people working in construction. It is also small enough to fit into a shirt pocket and has a lithium ion battery said to provide 10 hours' operation. It has a LCD screen that displays the unit's status, such as current channel and battery level. An optional voice scrambling facility is available for secure group communication.
Connect your PC anywhere, any time
HP has brought out the latest incarnation of its Tablet PC, the TC1100. This should be faster than the earlier TC1000, thanks to its 1 GHz Intel Pentium M processor and up to 2 GB of RAM. It has a full Intel Centrino specification, which means it has built in Wi-Fi capability and should use less battery power than the earlier model. This tablet is one of the smallest and lightest on the market and is just 20 mm deep, 274 mm long and 216 mm wide and weighs 1.4 kg.
The TC1100 has a detachable keyboard, and there is an optional docking station that helps turn the Tablet into a desktop PC. The keyboard can be left at home and the machine controlled using the supplied battery-free stylus via the touch sensitive screen. If users like entering data with a keyboard they will have to carry it around: the keyboard adds an extra 450 g to the package's weight. The docking station supports the Tablet in an upright position, has additional USB2.0 ports for plugging peripherals into, and also includes connectivity for a full sized keyboard and monitor. The TC1100 costs £2100 and there is a lower spec version equipped with a 800MHz Celeron processor for £1275.
Software: Be smarter, richer, more remote and CAD convertibleConvert scanned images into CAD
Softcover has released an updated version of its Scan2CAD conversion program that turns scanned drawings into CAD files, called v7. It is a raster to vector converter, which means it can express every pixel in an image so it has a mathematical relationship with other pixels – an essential quality for CAD software. It can also recognise individual drawing elements such as lines, rectangles, circles and text. The company says this latest version is more accurate than earlier versions and can recognise hatching and dashed lines, and its text recognition capabilities have been improved. The software can recognise a whole range of files including bitmap, jpeg and tiff; these are converted into dxf files that can be recognised by any PC CAD program. There are two versions, Regular for black and white images and Pro for colour and enhanced text-handling.
Fingertip financial management
Accounting and business software company Exchequer Software is set to launch version 5.6 of its Exchequer Enterprise package, tailored for the construction industry. This financial management program contains modules for looking after project and job costs plus a CIS management module. The latest version automates many of the complex postings and calculations needed to track and manage subcontractor payments and tax deductions. It also automates main contractor discounts, the CITB training levy and interim and practical retentions. The company says the product should appeal equally to contract and account managers.
Access office emails on your mobile
Owners of the popular Sony Ericsson P800 and P900 smartphones should be pleased to hear they can now use OpenHand’s remote email access solution. The software has been incorporated by Sony Ericsson for the benefit of its smartphone users. OpenHand enables users to access and send emails complete with attachments while away from the office, and they can also access public files held on the main server. OpenHand says the system can be used on most types of wireless devices including smartphones and wireless-enabled notebooks and PDAs. It also works with ordinary GSM technology as well as GPRS so users don’t need a specially enabled SIM card in their phone for the system to work. OpenHand also says the information visible on the mobile device is actually held on the company server rather than being downloaded to the device so if it gets lost or stolen no valuable data will be lost with it. This also means the user is viewing office based messages and files in real time. The company says the data sent between the phone and office is compressed to save on data transfer costs and security technologies ensure hackers are kept at bay.
Manage documents more efficiently
TDOC has launched version 4.26 of its document control and management program for technical documents. It is used for handling drawings, specifications, and schedules plus general documentation such as requests for information and correspondence. The latest version has been enhanced to speed up sending documents by email. It issues document transmittals in a format specified by the user, such as a PDF and automatically compresses the attached documents, sends the message with an EDI note enabling the receiving software to acknowledge its arrival.
Ten IT tips: How to work efficiently from homeThe work-at-home population is rapidly increasing and is now estimated at more than 7 million. Home working can benefit everybody, leading to improved productivity, reduced costs and better staff retention, saving time and energy and eliminating the stress caused by commuting.
However, there are many considerations to make before leaving the nine-to-five behind – not least the critical IT arrangements. Dr Anna McCrea from IT Construction Best Practice highlights the key issues employees wanting to work from home must address.
1 Ensure your home IT infrastructure is operational in terms of laptop or desktop PCs, printers, faxes, mobiles or land lines
If you want to retain your professional credibility, excuses such as, “my PC became corrupted” or “I couldn’t download it” are simply not acceptable. Clients as well as employers must be reassured that the quality of your work and company representation is not compromised. The ability to work on files using several applications at once is a must. This means, for example, working on a Word document, while referring to an Excel sheet and looking at jpeg with a scanned building floorplan.
2 - Get powerful, fast access to the internet via broadband or a high-spec modem
Working remotely doesn’t mean that receiving and sending large files has to be a tediously slow process. Broadband is still unavailable in some rural areas but the satellite option, although pricey, is available.
3 - Clean up your PC and so it is not clogged with files that can slow your response
There is nothing more embarrassing than an important conversation with a client or boss that has to be filled with “waffling” in order to buy time while you wait for the relevant data to appear on your screen. The best way to keep your hard disk free from all unwanted clutter is by disk clean-up, defragging and deleting temporary internet files. More on defragging from the http://wombat.doc.ic.ac.uk/foldoc search engine.
4 - Employ your own security – firewalls offer a defence against nasty viruses
Computer viruses are becoming more sophisticated by the minute, but so are security systems. Software firewalls may have to be augmented by hardware ones and your virus detection software must be frequently updated. If you have a laptop as well as a PC make sure the software is installed and updated on both. And if you are not working within your company’s network, don’t forget to back up files and keep the CD apart from your PC as insurance against fire or theft.
More information on IT security: www.citsec.com
Security health check from UK for Business Online search engine at ww.ukonlineforbusiness.gov.uk.
5 - Be aware of your employer’s security protocols and learn how to log in to the network securely
Working remotely often means you need to access the office network to retrieve information or check emails. This process can sometimes fail due to incompatibility or to high levels of security on the company system. These issues must be resolved upfront before you can begin working remotely. It’s also critical that the login process does not compromise security provisions. A Virtual Private Network (VPN) may be an option. This is a network that uses the internet for corporate data communication. Each office has its own VPN device. Each device encrypts network data destined for another office, and then sends it through the internet to a corresponding device in the other office.
6 - Get to know your technologies
Working from home can be pretty lonely, particularly when there are no colleagues nearby to ask for help when you aren’t sure how to do something. You must become proficient in using applications, relevant software and the internet. Explore all your company training opportunities.
7 - Learn to navigate your way around clients’ and employers’ intranets and extranets
An intranet is a restricted source of content and services accessible only to authorised staff. The levels of access may also be “layered” depending upon staff functions and degree of trust. An extranet is like an intranet but is accessible to selected people outside the organisation as well. Extranets can enhance business productivity and save costs by extending limited access to the company’s network to those the company deals with. Access is controlled by permissions, granted according to the level and type of information for sharing. Your efficiency in using the information will depend on your familiarity with the network. Get to know what information you can access and where you can find it before you start working remotely.
8 - Get a personalised mobile number and a dedicated fax number
You can purchase a personal mobile number that is easily remembered by clients and colleagues in other offices. You can divert incoming calls to any other telephone number. This gives you a backup system for those occasions when your mobile phone is unable to accept incoming calls, providing business continuity. You can also receive fax messages from customers or clients without putting in a separate phone line. A personal fax account uses your personal telephone number for incoming faxes, which can also be received via email (as bitmapped image files).
9 - Explore wireless working
The majority of industry players seem to be lining up behind the two emerging standards of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Over the next couple of years their capability will be built into thousands of electronic devices, bringing the wireless/cordless future closer. The most obvious benefits will come from the ability to exchange information between portable devices without having to make a physical connection between them, linking computing devices to nearby peripherals and notebook computers to mobile phones anywhere, anytime, to connect to the internet or other systems.
10 - Explore video-conferencing opportunities
Although the uptake of video-conferencing is not as rapid as experts predicted, it is fast enough that many managers can expect to organise, or at the very least participate in, such conferences at some point in their careers. The major drawback of video conferencing at present is the high cost of equipment and usage charges for higher bandwidth communication. However, savings in time and travelling expenses cannot be ignored. Find out more on the subject at www.tus.csx.cam.ac.uk/videoconf/vcdesc.html.
Product innovation: Digital link-up – via hard hatThere have been digital phones, digital televisions and now the humble hard hat is about to go digital too. This is an attempt to turn a basic and cheap piece of plastic into a highly sophisticated communications tool. Most of the necessary technology is already available, so it can keep people who are on site in touch with other members of a project team and head office. The digital hard hat takes this one step further by creating a hands-free solution ideal for construction.
It will be able to record and wirelessly transmit speech, video and text to a database or directly to other project team members. The hat will contain a microphone, small camera and a device that displays images in front of the wearer. The hat will be linked to a belt- mounted tablet-type PC. The camera will be able to record video and still images, and voice recognition software will allow the wearer to digitise speech and control the digital hard hat’s functions. The wearer will be able to hold live video conferences with other project teams back in their offices using the wireless link.
This will enable on-the-spot solutions to site problems. The user will also be able to download project information to speed up the construction process. Images and speech can be recorded on databases.
The concept has been developed by two American teams, the Construction Engineering Research Laboratories and the University of Illinois, and the BRE has been involved in trials. Although the technology exists to make the concept work, it is too bulky and cumbersome for practical use and it is not rugged enough for a construction site. But given the speed of technological advancement, the digital hard hat could soon become a reality.
To keep up to date with progress click on to www.itcbp.org.uk