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Outdoor Computer for the IoT

By ·Categories: Tech Explained·Published On: October 4th, 2022·4.3 min read·

The internet of things (IoT) is having a dramatic impact on just about everything in our daily lives from smart city applications, to heavy industry and smart manufacturing. As requirements and use cases expand, the need to acquire and act on data nearly anywhere is also expanding. This has led to demand for computers that can operate outside of a temperature controlled office space, like in a warehouse, factory or outdoors. The need for a rugged, outdoor computer has never been higher.

Who would use an outdoor computer?

There are many applications that require an industrial computer capable of operating outside. One application is for businesses that have remote assets, like those in the energy industry. These businesses need a computer that’s capable of remote monitoring. That way they can keep tabs on operations and manage security at their remote locations. 

Interactive kiosks may also use an outdoor computer. In fact, this market is rapidly growing and is expected to continue to grow by nearly $3 Billion dollars from 2020 to 2025. This growth is driven, in part, by the increasing adoption of contactless payment for smart city applications. These kiosks allow users to interact with the application and are frequently used for acquiring payment information – for example in parking garages, car washes and for mass transit ticket sales. For convenience, these types of kiosks need to be located where they are needed by the user – outdoors. 

Woman using a kiosk outdoors with a sunlight readable display

Outdoor computer features

To use a computer outside, you need one with robust features including:  

  • Ability to withstand wide temperature ranges
    • Check out our customer story about the San Diego Astronomy Association installation in the California desert where the temperature can reach well over 100F in the summer and well below freezing in the winter. 
  • Weather resistant enclosures
    • Computers that are rated for ingress protection such as an IP65 water resistant rated computer is a good place to start, but you may need even more protection from the elements.  A common practice is to use a weatherproof box. NEMA rated enclosures are a common component of an outdoor computer installation (more on that below).
  • Dust resistant
    • Dirt and dust can accumulate on sensitive electronic surfaces and can shorten the life of your outdoor PC. Ingress protection (IP) ratings will help to narrow your selection and are often rated for both water and solid object resistance. Selecting a fanless and ventless computer with a solid state drive is an ideal computer for a dusty environment because it’s engineered to stay cool while keeping the internal components protected from airborne particulates. 
  • Sunlight Readable Displays
    • For applications that require user interaction outdoors in full sunlight or bright shade, a sunlight readable display is a must. 
  • Flexible mounting options
    • Using an outdoor computer enclosure is a safe way to protect your technology investment, but the computer will still need to be mounted in the enclosure. There are several ways to mount your industrial computer

IP Rating Chart

Rugged computers for the outdoors

A rugged PC is designed for outdoor use and any environment found outside of the traditional temperature controlled building (sometimes referred to as “non-carpeted spaces”). These units are completely solid state and designed to withstand temperature swings, dust, electrical interference, vibration and impact forces. They are available with a variety of mounting options, and panel PC options offer displays that can be read in the bright sun. 

Outdoor computer installations using a NEMA enclosure

To install a computer outdoors, the vast majority of our customers are using a NEMA enclosure

LENSEC Remote Surveillance Device

What is a NEMA Enclosure?

NEMA stands for the National Electrical Manufacturer Association. This organization created a standard rating system that defines the types of environments in which an electrical enclosure can be used. The ratings frequently signify a fixed enclosure’s ability to withstand certain environmental conditions. They are designed to not only protect a computer from the elements, but they also protect personnel against access to hazardous parts. 

NEMA 4 enclosures are intended mainly for outdoor use and the enclosure can protect both the computer and other sensitive electronics. NEMA cabinets can help further address the challenges of moisture and dust. However, temperature, both extreme heat and cold, is still a factor. In fact, enclosing a PC can actually aggravate thermal issues. In an unvented NEMA enclosure, the ambient temperature could rise beyond the computer’s safe operating temperature specification.

Many passively cooled computers rely on airflow to effectively dissipate the heat generated by internal components. When it comes to using NEMA enclosures it’s important to understand all the variables, both with the computer and the enclosure being used. Check out our helpful Tech Edge video for important do’s and don’ts for installing fanless computers. 

Do you need an enclosure for your solution? What type of enclosure would be best? If you are looking for more answers, our helpful team of sales engineers can help address your concerns and point you in the right direction. Contact our team today!

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About the Author: Sarah Lavoie

Sarah Lavoie is a content creator for OnLogic. When not writing, she can usually be found exploring the Vermont landscape with her camera looking to photograph something amazing.
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