Case Study: Modular Tablet Computer Adapts to Provide Solutions for Acoustics and Vibration-Measurement Company


Situation

Outdated technology limits usefulness and relevance of the solution

Achieving laboratory-quality sound and vibration measurements on a job site or in the field requires precision equipment capable of detecting subtle variations and also rugged enough to perform reliably in challenging conditions.

Quebec-based Soft dB provides highly specialized digital signal processing and acoustics-measurement services for acoustical consultants, engineers, and research laboratories when noise inspection is required for projects including construction sites, manufacturing, airports, ports, and more.

It became apparent that new computer technology could be used to overcome system limitations and improve the user interface.

For more than 10 years, Soft dB used a third-party system to provide their customers with reliable acoustics measurement services and consultation. The existing product was DOS-based and had limited functionality. Although the system could collect information, it did not have connectivity options, had limited memory, and could not show graphics.

Users identified a need for units that weighed less, were less cumbersome, and were capable of displaying graphical data. It became apparent that new computer technology could be used to overcome system limitations and improve the user interface. Soft dB decided to create its own complete solution to offer as a replacement.

Requirements

New technology provides an opportunity to innovate

Soft dB regarded the upgrade as an opportunity not only to remain relevant in the acoustics-management industry, but to re-establish itself as an innovator in the market.

The company sought a new solution with the flexibility and capability to:

  • Integrate Soft dB’s proprietary Digital Signal Processor (DSP) board
  • Accommodate multiple for microphones and accelerometer peripherals
  • Display visual readings in graphical format
  • Improve the user interface

In addition, the system needed to be rugged, sunlight-viewable, and lightweight to ensure its reliability and usability in the field.

Approach

Customized system solution from easily modified backpack

The M8910 Soft dB solution

For its Concerto solution, Soft dB reviewed numerous computers available for enterprise and consumer applications, eventually selecting DAP Technologies’ M89010 and M9010 tablets, primarily for their modularity and ruggedness. “They were two of the only tablets PCs that would allow for integration of our custom DSP board. And DAP’s computers are rugged enough to be used in the field in all kinds of weather and conditions,” said André L’Espérance, president of Soft dB.

Whereas most computers allow customers to specify basic processing, memory, and speed functionality, DAP’s M8910 and M9010 allow for advanced customization through its modular backpack design, which provides streamlined connection between the computer’s main processor and customized circuit boards. The backpack can additionally be modified with customer-specified input/output ports and connections.

Soft dB took advantage of the flexibility of the M8910 and M9010 by modifying the unit’s modular backpack to house the proprietary DSP board and connect to the main processor via a standard USB port. Using backpack design specifications provided by DAP, Soft dB had custom backpacks manufactured to meet specific requirements, which included:

  • Soft dB’s custom DSP chipset
  • A slightly deeper backpack to fit the DSP board, which was also modified to work within the computer
  • 4×ICP 24-bit inputs (110 dB range) and 2×24-bit outputs for specialized peripherals
  • A threaded hole for mounting on a tripop

The 7-inch, sunlight-viewable touchscreen provides Soft dB the opportunity to update the user interface to display up to four graphs at the same time, providing instant visual information to the user. All functions are easily accessible on the touchscreen, providing an intuitive and user-friendly interface. At only 1.35 kg (2.96 lb.), the new solution is less than half the weight of their previous system (4 kg or 7.5 lb.), smaller and more ergonomically designed for extended handheld usage.

Since acoustic measurement often takes place in challenging environments where dust, water, vibration, and extreme temperatures can be expected, the M8910 and M9010’s IP67 rating and testing to meet MIL-STD-810F requirements help ensure reliable operation.

WLAN and Bluetooth communication allows using the Concerto as a monitoring station with remote access.

Results

Shortened timeframe for bringing customized product to market

With the flexibility of DAP’s M8910 and M9010, Soft dB was able to update and improve upon its offerings and launch Concerto, a multi-functional acoustic measuring system that provides laboratory-quality measurements without compromising portability.

The M8910 Soft dB solution

Because the M8910 and M9010 provided Soft dB a powerful computer solution that was easily customizable to their exact specifications by modifying only the backpack, development time for the entire system was abbreviated and costs were minimized. From conceptualization of the hardware and software solution to production, the entire project took just 18 months to complete and resulted in an unparalleled system for engineering services, architectural acoustics, research and development, and measuring environmental noise.

If updates to the DSP chipset are required in the future, Soft dB can easily modify just the backpack, thereby minimizing production time and costs. Similarly, as DAP’s products evolve, Soft dB can take advantage of the modularity of the backpack design and repurpose it in newer tablet models, without incurring additional design expenses.