Wearable WearGreetings, programs!
By Andrew J. Breitenbach
June 1999, issue 28
And with that greeting from the classic man-machine feature "Tron", welcome to the unveiling of Pen Computing Magazine's first column devoted to wearable computers. I'm Andrew Breitenbach, Associate Editor, and have been with the Pen Computing staff for about a year and a half now. In our efforts to broaden the scope of personal-interactive computing, it was brought to our attention that we were ignoring for the most part a thriving sector of keyboard-free computing: wearable computing. David MacNeill, Executive Editor, suggested that I should produce a section devoted to this segment, and I gleefully chomped at the bit.
Wearable computers are one of those fuzzy areas that are best described by, "I know it when I see it." The immediate goal of wearable computer manufacturers is to sever the individual's need for a laptop computer. There are many situations, especially in industrial and military applications, where having a free lap and two free hands to use a computer is completely impractical. The next goal of wearable computer manufacturers is to provide hands-free computing-essentially taking computer interfaces one step farther than pen-based systems. For example, to use a pen tablet, you still need one hand free to wield a pen or touch a touchscreen and one forearm to hold the tablet. However, if both of your hands are deep inside a jet engine's innards, you cannot afford to tie up those areas of your appendages.
Hence, speech recognition systems and head-mounted displays come into the forefront with wearable computing interfaces.
ViA II Flexible PC
The ViA II sports the 180MHz Cyrix MediaGX and 5520 chipset, with 32MB DRAM standard (64MB optional), a 1.6 GB 2.5" IBM hard drive standard (3.2 GB optional), one Type III PC card slot (which supports two Type II cards), a hot-swappable Lithium Ion battery for continuous operation (battery life is 30 or 43 Watt hours depending on battery type requested), and the Microsoft Windows 95 operating system.
The ViA II has an RS-232 serial port, two USB ports, PS/2 mouse and keyboard ports, and an AC adapter with a DC/DC automotive adapter option. The flexible PC also has full-duplex audio for advanced speech interfaces-an audio headset consisting of a microphone and speaker is an available peripheral option. There is 1280x1024 VGA support, 800x600 flat-panel support, and a digital display interface (PanelLink).
A pen tablet can be an option as the interface between you and the computer: a 6.5" TFT color flat-panel display with 640x480 resolution. It has a resistive touch interface, using a passive stylus or finger for input. A holster attached to the ViA II belt securely holds the display when not in use.
Finally, not only is there a head mounted display option (OEMed from VirtualVision-once a division of Telxon, now a part of the FED Corporation-accessible at www.virtualvision.com), but there is a tremendously useful docking station option, enabling you to forego a "master control" desktop PC altogether.
The US Navy is another demanding customer for ViA wearables. They need to be able to control the flight and operation of a drone aircraft using speech recognition-from the open door of a flying helicopter.
The HMD is about 1.04 lbs, is VGA color monocular, is left or right side wearable, and has a microphone, an earpiece speaker, and an optional integrated miniature video camera. The FPD is about 1.32 lbs, is VGA color, has built-in programmable buttons, a built-in digitizer, and a pen or touch screen.
Exciting Things Afoot for Xybernaut
A Xybernaut Xolution
By using a Xybernaut wearable computer, the officers could access the remote database without leaving the vehicle's vicinity. This not only avoided the cost of expanding the wired LAN to outbound areas but also improved customer service. Staffing requirements were also reduced because they no longer needed to have an officer remain near a vehicle being processed while a second officer went to a terminal to run a query.
The tiny yet durable two-ounce Ring Scanner is built around a high-performance Symbol scan engine, which aggressively reads symbols from four to 25 inches. The ring is comfortable and easy to use-merely "aim-and-shoot"-important for today's business environment where training resources are limited.
The WU 1000 is a DOS-compatible computer which supports both batch and spread spectrum wireless LAN communications. The 9oz. wrist unit features a four-line by twenty-character display and a 27-key alphanumeric keyboard optimally positioned for viewing and keypad input. The CPU has 640KB RAM/512KB nonvolatile memory for both batch and on-line spread-spectrum data collection. The extended power of the lithium-ion battery ensures a full-shift operation and charges in just over two hours. The Symbol Spectrum One radio card allows realtime two-way data communications between workers and the host computer for enhanced productivity and efficiency.
Symbol Technologies: www.symbol.com
"We don't really taut the Hummingbird any longer even though it seemed perfect as a wearable. We've learned that most users (particularly in our venue) prefer a display of some sort and that is what we're developing. To take my opinion one step further, not only is a display desired, we target the "outdoor" market thus sunlight readability is a requirement, or at a minimum, daylight readability."
If your company has a wearable computer or peripheral or uses wearable computers as a solution and would like to inquire into editorial coverage, please don't hesitate to send materials to Andrew Breitenbach, Associate Editor, at the Pen Computing Magazine editorial office, or to email@example.com.
The author would like to acknowledge previous contributions by Brad Nemer for the construction of this article.
Andrew J. Breitenbach can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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