Paul de Gelder
Toughpad spokes-survivor Paul de Gelder.

Covering the consumer electronics industry, you hear just as many boring stories as you do interesting ones. At the launch of Panasonic’s new 7-inch Toughpad FZ-M1, there was an amazing story:

Five years ago, the worst thing that could have ever happened, happened. My worst nightmares came to reality. I was in Sydney Harbour not far from here [Circular Quay] and a bull shark attacked me.

I’m the only clearance diver in 60 years to be attacked, the first person in Sydney harbour to be attacked in 50 years, and a bull shark grabbed me by the back of the leg and my hand, and ripped them off.

I popped to the surface — hopefully by then it was swimming away — and went to take a stroke towards my safety boat because all I wanted to do was to get out of the water. I took my hand out to take a stroke and it was gone. So I started swimming for my safety boat with one hand and I couldn’t feel my right leg, so I started swimming with one leg.

The guys in my safety boat told me I was swimming through a pool of my own blood. When they came to grab me they could actually taste it in the air. They grabbed me and pulled me into the boat and I was so thankful that I was still actually alive and didn’t get eaten that I relaxed, my eyes rolled back into my head, and I passed out.

My buddy Thommo’s medical training kicked in, to be cool under pressure, and he did what’s called a series of short sharp jabs to my heart, stimulating my heart and waking me back up. And it worked. I woke up, looked over, my hand was freshly torn off by a shark and I looked up and Thommo was beating the crap out of me. And I just thought: “Today sucks”.

I spent nine weeks in hospital. I was very, very close to death. I had my leg for a week because the shark actually only took my hamstring and the surgeon came into me and said:

“Paul, you can keep your leg, but the shark has taken your whole hamstring and 25 centimetres of your sciatic nerve, so not only will you not be able to move it you will never be able to feel it again. Your fitness will suffer, your motivation will suffer, your leg could effectively catch fire and you wouldn’t even know. Alternatively, we can remove it and have you walking, possibly running, on a prosthetic in 12 months.”

Now I was so high on a horse tranquiliser called ketamine that I looked him dead in the eyes and I said: “Doc, just take it. Turn me into a Terminator!”.

He gave me a day to think about it, but I decided I didn’t want my motivation to suffer. I didn’t want to carry this limb around like a lump of wood. I wanted to get on with my life. So I chose the rough road and I said: “Doc, take it. I want to get moving.”

Now they took my leg, and two days after that I was laying in my bed thinking, “What am I going to do now? How am I going to do all of this crazy stuff that I felt made my life worth living?”.

And I realised I had two choices: I could give up (not a very rewarding sort of situation) or I could do what the military taught me to do and be tough, dust myself off, get up and keep going. So that’s what I did.

The reason former Navy Diver Paul de Gelder was sharing this incredible tale was to highlight toughness — maybe — it wasn’t entirely made clear, but it was a great story nonetheless.

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Panasonic Toughpad
Panasonic Toughpad FZ-M1.

The Toughpad FZ-M1 is the latest addition to Panasonic’s range of ruggedised computer products, which also include notebooks, tablets and hybrids of these form factors. At 7 inches, it is light and compact and can be comfortably held in one hand, although those who can’t hold it in one hand are also accommodated, as it is guaranteed to survive a fall from 1.5 metres, as memorably demonstrated by product marketing manager Jason Lee in a classic piece of press conference ham acting.

Other tough features include protection from shock, vibration, altitude, humidity and extreme temperatures, as well as transference between extreme temperatures, such as from freezing cold to hot. We are still chasing up to determine whether the FZ-M1 is waterproof.

UPDATE: Panasonic’s PR team has come back to us with the following response:

The Toughpad is not able to be fully immersed in water (such as taken diving et cetera), but is water resistant against spills, such as [having a] bucket of water being dropped over it, and other situations like being used whilst out in driving rain.

The 7-inch screen as a WXGA (1,280 x 800) screen and 10-point multi-touchscreen, and there is also the option of using a stylus to interact with the tablet. There is only one camera, a rear facing 5-megapixel sensor with LED flash that can also record at 720p.

The FZ-M1 runs Windows 8.1 Pro and is powered by a 4th Generation Intel Core i5 VPro processor and has 4GB of RAM and 128GB solid state drive storage. Connectivity includes Bluetooth v4.0, optional 4G wireless broadband and NFC. There are USB 3.0 and Micro SDXC card slots.

Panasonic reports that since it started rolling out tough tablets several years ago, several commercial clients have opted for a ruggedised option over the more fragile tablets offered by rival manufacturers. Wilson Security has a fleet of 7-inch Android models that were “chosen for ruggedness, mobility and connectivity”, while Melbourne Water has 10-inch tablets so officers can “access [the] Windows corporate platform while out in the field [with] reduced errors, increased productivity and improved cost savings”. Other clients include Chevron and Citywide Service Solutions, Panasonic said.

At the last major local Panasonic Tough launch, in November 2012 for Toughbook PCs, former head of Panasonic B2B arm, the Business Systems Group (BSG), Mark Deere-Jones revealed that Panasonic was trialling retail sales of ruggedised products through selected Harvey Norman stores. It is unclear how this trial performed and, as with the waterproofness of the FZ-M1, we are chasing up a response.

Panasonic group manager, Toughbook, Marc Amelung did confirm that this device was ostensibly exclusive to the company’s commercial channel and, at RRP $2,699, it is certainly not a tablet for the price sensitive. That didn’t stop Panasonic from introducing the tablet to Sydney commuters at Circular Quay, where it was used as the puck in a high striker.

Panasonic High Striker
Rival hacks look on while celebrity technology journalist Charlie Brown whacks the lever to send the Toughpad puck flying up to the bell.

Unfortunately this reporter must confess he did not manage to ring the bell.

Andrew Jackson contributed to this story.