Wearable computers: The future is now



Wearable computers combine the latest in mobile computing with cutting-edge wireless technologies to give today's on-the-go workers the ability to send, receive and view data in virtually any form from even the most remote and environmentally challenging locations. And although the technology has been on the fringes for quite a while now, it's beginning to enter the mainstream and offers technology savvy industries new opportunities to increase employee productivity and achieve greater return on investment.

In fact, Gartner recently cited wearable computers as one of the four key emerging technology trends for the next decade. The others were remote customer self-service, Web services and electronic information tagging of purchasable products.

Gartner predicts by 2007, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population aged 15 to 50 will carry or wear a wireless computing and communications device at least six hours a day. "Widespread adoption of wireless, wearable computing will provide constantly connected employees and consumers with access to communities, information and other services as they go about their business in the real world," said Jackie Fenn, Vice President and Research Fellow for Gartner. "The prevalence of 'wearables' will lead to commerce and service opportunities as significant as those resulting from the wired Web."

The newest wearable devices are small, rugged, lightweight units with the computing power of a desktop PC. The headset projects an easily viewable image the size of a TV screen, incorporates an eyepiece video camera and accepts voice input through a microphone. The devices also feature a tiny keyboard users can carry on their forearms and a clip-on, pager-sized processor.

One such wearable computer, the Mobile Assistant V by Xybernaut, a leading commercial provider of wearable computers based in Fairfax, Virginia, is in pilot testing with the U.S. military, NASA and some highly mobile businesses, including Federal Express and Bell Canada.

Bell Canada, a telecommunications company searching for ways to improve employee productivity, outfitted 19 field technicians with Xybernaut's MA V, giving them real-time access to the companies enterprise resources, including reference materials, safety guides, and maintenance schedules. The goal was to increase service call completion rates and decrease response times.

Bell's field technicians have relied on laptops as their primary computing devices, but are most often left in service vehicles because they'sre relatively fragile and not adaptable to the variety of work environments encountered by technicians. This means lots of wasted time back and forth to the truck to check customer information and collect required data.

The Mobile Assistant provides workers with reliable, accessible voice and data communications in a brand new way, said Edward Newman, Chairman, President and CEO of Xybernaut. In addition to freeing up technicians's hands to do more work, the device also gives them immediate access to the information they need, wherever they are.

Bell Canada technicians tested the Xybernaut wearable computer for two to four months in various configurations and in all weather and service environments. The technicians were able to take their new computing power up utility poles and into manholes; places their laptops were completely impractical.

Thanks to improved portability and reduced computing time, Bell Canada estimates technicians participating in the pilot saved more than 50 minutes per day per worker. In addition, the employees involved in the testing found the wearable to be an asset in performing even the most complex tasks with ease.

To say that Bell Canada is extremely please with the results is an understatement we had to literally beg trial participants to return the units, said Brad Chitty, General Manager, Mobile Communications Services, Bell Canada. Wearable PCs have performed extremely well in a number of environments, saving us time on repair calls and resulting in better customer service. As a company that has a history of adopting new technology, it's exciting to have our own field service technicians leading the way.

Although the work of telecommunications technicians may seem a far cry from the computing needs of the pharmaceutical industry, in today's tough economic times most businesses share common goals of cutting costs, while seeking new ways to differentiate themselves and grow market share.

The potential applications of wearable computing in the pharma industry are numerous. Manufacturing, asset management and maintenance, sales and marketing and clinical development all stand to benefit from savings in costs and time wearable computers can bring to the workplace.

To learn more about wearable computers, visit Xybernaut's Web site at xybernaut.com.


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