Kiwi spy agency eyes Box Office

The shadowy Government Communications Security Bureau - accused of a variety of wire-tapping activities on New Zealand citizens - could be a prospective customer for the latest iteration of the 'portable office'.

The shadowy Government Communications Security Bureau - accused of a variety of wire-tapping activities on New Zealand citizens - could be a prospective customer for the latest iteration of the "portable office".

GCSB recently requested a demonstration of Box Office - a thick briefcase designed to hold a notebook computer, cellphone, miniature printer and power supply produced by Wellington-based Advanced Portable Technologies.

"It all seemed very secretive," says general manager Garry Mitchell. "They wouldn't even give me any business cards."

The Land Transport Safety Authority and Ports of Auckland already act as pilot users of Box Office, but use an earlier model, each one of which was individually built, says Mitchell. The current version of the device is about to move into mass-production mode.

The company has also been approached by a UN representative, with a view to taking 15 of the devices for operation in remote villages in East Timor. APT marketing manager Grant Heath says he doesn't know what kind of communications infrastructure might be available in that area, but suggests UN forces might be looking at Box Office more for its portability and the ability to recharge it from a vehicle outlet than for communications.

ATL has retained several resellers in New Zealand, who will probably want to decide which notebook they will put in the box, Mitchell says. The cellphone will probably be the user's own. The printer, however, will be standard: a Canon BJC-85, which also has a scanning head. It has to be very small as printers go, so there is no choice, he says.

A major feature of the device is the power supply, which drives all components. The NiCad battery can last four days under a light workload, Mitchell claims, and will recharge completely in three hours from 240V or 110V mains, a 12v DC source or a car cigarette lighter. This would be in a vehicle on the move, says Mitchell, so the vehicle's own battery would not be significantly discharged by recharging the Box Office batteries.

Box Office measures 450 x 350 x 170mm, and weighs 3kg. This is smaller in volume than "many cases that people take on to an airline flight as hand luggage", Mitchell notes.

The case is made of Palight, a foam material, sheathed in Kydex, the plastic material used for the inner skin of airliner cabins. The initial models were made of Kevlar, but this proved too expensive for mass production.

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