Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama on Electronics: So Far, So Good

When a new President takes the oath, you never know quite what to expect. Will he be techno phobic or techno savvy? Will the military side of electronics continue to grow as it did under Bush? Does Obama actually use electronics, like his buzzed-about BlackBerry, much? Does he promote the growth of new areas, such as solar power and other green electronics?

Little by little, favorable responses are emerging. Solar power was touched upon in the inaugural address. On the military side, he has named Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a friend of the defense industry, to continue in that position. He also mentioned that he will increase U.S. ground forces by 65,000 soldiers. It seems to be business as usual in this electronics sector. More soldiers equals more electronics devices, more transport systems, more computers. And local news in that area seems to be positive. On January 19, LaBarge Inc. ( announced that the company had received $2.9 million in contracts from BAE Systems to manufacture electronic assemblies for its A3 Bradley Combat Systems vehicles; BAE will be well stocked in electronics. Bradley Combat Systems played a central role in Operation Iraqi Freedom and they continue to provide outstanding survivability, mobility, and combat capability to U.S. soldiers in close-combat urban situations as well as in open combat. The Bradley fulfills five critical mission roles: infantry fighting vehicle, cavalry fighting vehicle, fire support vehicle, battle command vehicle, and engineer squad vehicle for the Army's Heavy Brigade Combat Teams. Production on these contracts is expected to continue through June 2009 at LaBarge's Huntsville, Ark., facility.

And is Obama techno savvy? We certainly know that he plans to use his BlackBerry while in office. It was touch-and-go at first. “I want to be able to have voice, other than the people immediately working for me, be able to reach out and … send me a message about what’s happening in America,” he said. Before he was sworn in, the U.S. Secret Service tried to force him to give up this device, thinking that a hacker could possibly break in and gain access to confidential informational that would affect national security. Reportedly, Obama’s BlackBerry is the 8830 World Edition with GPS features, and it is true that virtually no one is safe from unscrupulous hackers. One thing that most voters noticed early on was that Obama supporters communicated quite well, using the internet as a fund-raising and organizational tool. Why give it up now?

Typically, the U.S. Secret Service prohibits the President from carrying any sort of cell phone to minimize security risks. By law, all the president's e-mails must be recorded and made available to the public. It appears that the president has won this battle. Press secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed that officials negotiated a secure way for the president to retain his BlackBerry to communicate with senior staff and personal friends just to keep in touch with folks.

Obama also reinforced the need to have all health records digitized within five years to control costs. Have you noticed how many X-rays are already in digital format, saving the high cost of film? Doctors are also carrying around sturdy computers as well in many hospitals. “This cuts waste, eliminates red tape, and reduces the need to repeat expensive medical tests," he said, inferring that the switch also would save lives by reducing the number of errors in medicine. I wonder if they sterilize the keypads.

Obama certainly seems to be the most electronics-aware president that we have ever had in office. Let’s see how that affects the growth of our industry.

Gail Flower, editor at large, SMT

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