For Jack Kassewitz’s Research Into Communication With Dolphins, the Panasonic Toughbook Is Better Than Apple iPad

The man trying to speak with dolphins named his portable-computing choice for the wet, hot and sun-baked environment of his outdoor laboratory in Mexico: the Panasonic Toughbook.

“It’s not my job to criticize the iPad, but for our experiment, we needed something indestructible,” said Jack Kassewitz, a researcher behind SpeakDolphin, an organization investigating communication between humans and dolphins. “I think that the iPad serves a great niche; I just think it has to be indoors.”

When it comes to getting binary in the ocean with dolphins, Mr. Kassewitz, who was given his computer equipment by Panasonic (and never heard from Apple), identified six factors that had him choosing the Toughbook over the iPad:

  1. Heat: The iPad, according to Mr. Kassewitz in a phone interview with Flying Flashlight (um, me), failed to work in the sun above 95 degrees. “Every time it would get hot, it would basically shut down,” he said. This was critical. It’s hot in the Mexican Riviera. Ah, good ol’ innovative heat-dissipation system.
  2. Water: Water on the iPad was a big warranty-voiding no-no, but no problem for the Toughbook, “I can literally get in the water and not care if it gets completely splashed or not,” he said. This brave sailor likes this feature, too.
  3. Multitasking: The Toughbook had no problems keeping up, and the iPad just couldn’t swing it, he said. One blogger has similar woes, but another found a slice of joy.
  4. Screen sensitivity: With the iPad inside a water-proofing bag, its elegant touchscreen loses its responsiveness, he said. Capacative input will do that, but perhaps a visit to the workshop could address the issue.
  5. Screen visibility: On the Toughbook, “the screen, during the day, you can see perfectly. We were getting a lot of reflection off the water on the iPad, where we were not getting that on the Toughbook,” he said. This blog credits Panasonic’s “Circular Polarizing technology” for the easy-to-see result.
  6. Durability: The Toughbook doesn’t mind getting kicked around, as this blog post thoroughly demonstrates. “At one point, I dropped it three feet off a table, and it had absolutely no effect on the Toughbook,” Mr. Kassewitz said. “I did the same thing with the iPad, and had to replace it. I didn’t want to have to be so gentle.”

Mr. Kassewitz said he used the Toughbook 19 and 30 in experiments that had dolphins viewing images of objects on the computers’ screens, then identifying those same objects that were, at first, held by researchers.

But there was a problem: Some of the dolphins were on friendlier terms with some of the humans. Mr. Kassewitz suspected the animals would swim toward the person they liked instead of the correct object.

“I was becoming very concerned about humans being in the equation,” he said.

He estimated that 30 percent of these experiments had the dolphins successfully identifying the object shown to them on the screen.

When he switched to simply floating the objects in the ocean, rather than having researchers hold them, the dolphins made the correct association roughly 70 percent of the time.

“That’s not bad,” he said. “Michael Jordan got paid a lot of money for 50 percent of his baskets.”

During the tests, Mr. Kassewitz recorded sounds the dolphins made when interacting with the cross, duck, ball, square or other objects that were used. He is analyzing that dolphin chatter for consistent, common audio signatures. In essence, he’s hunting for the squeak that means “ball.”

“We’re calling it a lexicon for dolphins,” he said.

For the next round of experiments in November, he hopes to play those universal sounds and see if the dolphins pick out the objects associated with them.

If successful, that experiment would no doubt generate attention that far outstrips the millions of page views his Web site received when news about his use of the iPad first surfaced.

Mr. Kassewitz has said he wants to attempt similar experiments with elephants, but that project’s execution is on hold. Maybe Apple will be more interested in land-based creatures.

“At no time has Apple come forward to try to help me,” he said of his experiments with iPads and dolphins. “Panasonic has bent over backwards. I made up my wish list and they sent me everything I needed.”