Meet the Team Behind Xplore Rugged Tablets: Dave Reber, Senior Mechanical Engineer

For the last nine years, Dave Reber has been responsible for the design, testing and refinement of every last mechanical component incorporated into Xplore’s many award-winning rugged tablets and accessories. That’s no small job for any team. Yet, this one man has made a very big impact on the performance, reliability and overall flexibility of our 2 in 1 tablet designs.

We sat down with him recently to understand what he is focused on these days and which customer mobility challenges keep him up at night.

What are some of the unique challenges of engineering rugged tablets?
Although rugged tablets have been around for more than 20 years – and Xplore is the only manufacturer that has been solely focused on developing rugged tablets these last two decades – it can still be a challenge to meet customers’ rugged requirements while using standard commercial components. For example, we often exceed the temperature specifications of commercial components and need to keep searching and testing until we find one that meets the requirements. This is the most difficult concept to convey to our suppliers. At the same time, it may look easy to design an easy-to-open port door – or a locking door that remains waterproof after thousands of cycles. However, they are very challenging components to develop. Even more, these doors must be replaceable as users can always find a way to damage the door.

Xplore Rugged Tablets with Glove Touch Technology

I also spend a lot of time refining the capacitive touch for use in wet environments or with heavy leather work gloves. Those are critical features that need to work exactly as advertised for our customers, especially those in the utility, manufacturing, energy, public safety, military and field service sectors.

Are there any new rugged tablet capabilities/features that you think we’ll see in the next few years?
In the near-term – say, the next 3-5 years – I think we’ll see more rugged tablets with 3D cameras, which will help users better convey information for applications such as plant maintenance. Over the next 12-18 months, you can expect to see more features built into our standard rugged tablet offering, along with better displays, better touch experiences, etc.

Describe work done for special customer requests or unique customer segments – how creative have you had to be?
I know that Bryan Bell also mentioned this, but we created the Kickstrap for one of our larger customers. It’s a stand that props up the tablet to create a laptop or desktop type setup in the field, combined with a rotating handstrap for easy in-hand (aka tablet) use. It was a very creative implementation and very rugged.

Which mobile computing capabilities require the most level of customization?

Xplore's Director of Software Engineering

Without a doubt, developing, refining and deploying Android requires the most cost, time and resources of Xplore to meet the constant requests of our customers. Android is really gaining traction in field service and industrial sectors, but our customers require a professional-grade solution.

Xplore rugged tablets have some of the lowest annualized failure rates of any mobile computer in the market, regardless of ruggedness or form factor. What would you attribute to that resilience/performance? Why do we not see more manufacturers achieve Xplore-level of quality?
Xplore has very good suppliers that go through extensive compatibility and environmental testing. Plus, in the process of making our tablets and accessories inherently rugged, we also create a simple reliable design. Incorporating fewer parts means there is less that can go wrong.

Talk about your greatest successes:

What would you consider Xplore’s greatest engineering feat(s) in the last 20 years?
The XC6 ultra-rugged tablet. This IP67 platform boasts a 1000 nit display and can run full out at 140°F.

How about the last 5 years?
Developing one CPU that is compatible with Windows 7, 8.1, 10 AND Android.

And, the last year?
Our IP65 vehicle dock. It can be easy to forget just how important a vehicle dock can be to the performance of a mobile computer in a patrol car or utility truck – and how frequently outdoor elements, such as dust or rain, penetrate and mess with the mechanical and electrical components of those docks if not properly protected. Our dustproof and water-resistant design ensures that Xplore rugged tablets maintain peak performance in every situation, even during inclement weather or in the case of a coffee spill. 

What is the most exciting project you’ve ever worked on while at Xplore?
The integration of our HDMI in ports required a very creative hardware/software solution, but it has paid off significantly for our customers, especially the  large telcos.

Have you worked on projects that open up new markets (for Xplore)?
Yes, the Iridium Satellite Modem that we integrated into the XSLATE D10 with CLS Group to create the  Thorium X, the industry’s first rugged Android satellite tablet.

Have you seen the products you develop “out in the wild” – used by companies that you come across in your daily life?
Yes, I saw an Xplore tablet on an AT&T construction truck one time. I also see the automobiles that our tablets are used to build on the road every day.

Tell us more about you:

Describe your typical “day at the office”?

I try to block out interruptions in the morning and get some real design work done. Of course, I have to balance this with the need to answer customer and System Architect questions that are coming in constantly. I always allot time to write test reports and change control documentation. I also participate in two-to-three conference calls per week at 8:30pm CT with our Taiwan suppliers.

Do you even have a traditional office ?
It’s more like a lab with benches and parts everywhere than a traditional office.

You aren’t just an engineer…what do you do for fun?
Hiking, Backpacking and mountain biking. I also try to snow ski at least once a year, but that’s difficult to do in Texas!

If you weren’t an engineer, what would you want to be “when you grow up”?
I would be a tour guide. I love to travel.

What would you tell someone considering a career in STEM?
Just do it. Don’t get discouraged if it seems too hard. You just have to train your mind to work through difficulties.