Toughbooks in Antarctica

Posted by Ed Lasher on 15th Dec 2017

Near the end of last summer, an order came through our website for a scratch and dent Toughbook CF-31, a reliable but modest laptop with no special upgrades added. The Toughbook would be sent to Gil Jeffer in New Jersey, just a stone's throw from our headquarters in central Delaware. As with every order, we did our best to make sure our customer was happy. Business as usual.

It's December now, and mornings at the Bob Johnson's Computer Stuff office are spent breathing into our hands and sipping hot coffee. The heater kicks on automatically about an hour before we open, but this is a big space and sometimes it takes longer than that to get to a comfortable temperature. We can handle it, though. We're tough.

Last week, an email from Gil popped up in Bob's inbox. It's always nice to hear from customers. His Toughbook is performing great, he tells us, from his camp at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica.

Gil Jeffer at the South Pole with his Toughbook from
Gil Jeffer at the Geographic South Pole marker with the Amundsen-Scott Station in the background.

"Not a bad day out," he writes, "about -30F with -46F wind chill, pressure altitude is 10,723 ft."

We can't help but notice in the picture that he is not wearing any gloves and has unzipped his parka to reveal a Bob Johnson's Computer Stuff, Inc. t-shirt.

Gil Jeffer is the real deal. Since the 2012/2013 season, he's spent several weeks each year in Antarctica, maintaining electrical systems at five automatic geophysical observatories, or AGOs. These AGOs are managed by the New Jersey Institute of Technology and used by physicists to study the effects of space weather on Earth.

"We've deployed your Toughbooks at McMurdo and at the South Pole (both manned stations)," Gil says in his email. "Tomorrow we'll be flown to AGO-4 (from pole) and dropped off for a four day camp mission.

"The AGOs are extremely remote — four of us will camp out in tents until they fly in to pick us up. Our goal is to deploy a Toughbook system at each AGO this year, but things rarely go as planned."

Antarctic Toughbook setup
One of the Antarctic Toughbook systems, outfitted with an Iridium A3LA modem (to send data home), a GPS (for time), a USB relay (reboot if fault detected), and a LabJack U6 14 channel ADC

Maybe it's just the heater kicking in, but the BJCS office is starting to feel a lot warmer.

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