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BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson
Wearable computers mark new level of portability
 real 28k

Thursday, 4 May, 2000, 09:25 GMT 10:25 UK
Computers as clothes
Computer BBC
Head-mounted displays free up users hands
By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington

Michael Jenkins does not talk about people using his company's computers, instead he talks about people wearing them.

"We try to bring information to the user instead of the user to the information," said Mr Jenkins, vice president of Xybernaut, a maker of wearable computers in Virginia, US.

The evolution of computers has seen them shrink from room-sized monstrosities to handheld devices that easily fit into one's pocket.

But wearable computers are the next level of portability. They are not only small and lightweight, but are designed to be worn not carried.

Dressing to process

The brains of Xybernaut's Mobile Assistant IV weigh just a little more than a kilogram. The CPU can be worn on a belt or a vest.

Computer BBC
A pointing device is on the CPU on the belt
A pointing device is on the CPU, allowing the user to control the cursor much as a desktop computer user would with a mouse.

A small wrist-worn keyboard can also be used to enter information into the computer.

The wearable computer comes with a choice of displays, either a wrist-mounted touch-screen LCD or a head-mounted display.

Look ma, no hands

The head-mounted display allows the user to operate the computer completely hands-free. Hanging off a headset is a small screen, a microphone and an earphone.

Model BBC
Wearable computers could become functional fashion
Despite the diminutive size of the screen, its proximity to the eye makes it appear as large as a 15-inch desktop display to the user.

The microphone can be used to operate the computer using voice commands and voice-recognition software.

A wireless modem can be added through a PC card expansion slot in the computer.

Play ball

Mr Jenkins said that a lot of workers could benefit from wearing Xybernaut's computers.

Computer BBC
Hospitals and ships inspectors are using IBM's wearable computers
"Traditionally, our users are people who need access to information while their hands are free and their feet are free," he said.

In Japan, a sports network covering baseball is using the computers with cameras on the head-mounted displays to film live interviews with baseball players, he said.

They use a wireless data link to file the interviews and post them almost instantaneously onto a website.

Big Blue's test project

Computer giant IBM is also working on wearable computers and have manufactured about 100 systems as part of the test programme.

Their test projects include a trial at Duke University Medical Centre. Here doctors use the computers to access patients' medical records and lab results at their bedsides.

And, at a Norwegian centre that monitors the safety of ships and oil rigs, inspectors are able to access structural drawings and previous inspection notes directly from their wearable computers.

They also were able to enter data directly using voice recognition software.

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26 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
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