IBM's Wearable PC May Debut Early Next Year

NEW YORK (06/28/2000) - IBM Corp.'s wearable PC could be ready for the market as early as the beginning of next year, although the company needs to work further at refining and testing the design, an IBM engineer said here Wednesday.

More effort is needed to shrink and test the technology, according to Russell Budd, an engineer on the IBM project. "We need to know what the customer wants, and build it in," he said here at PC Expo.

Always a crowd pleaser, most of the people who tried on the wearable PC at the show Wednesday seemed enthusiastic about it. The device has a high gee-whiz factor, something IBM highlights in company commercials featuring a young man sitting alone in a park full of pigeons, screaming stock orders into the wearable PC's headset.

The system links a head display harness to a wide, black shoulder sash with the computer processing hardware.

The display device is a toothbrush-sized bar extending from the headgear like a monocle on one side of the wearer's face. It projects the image of a computer screen in front of the user's eye. The wearer can control the computer using voice commands or a mouse built like a pilot's hand-grip with the buttons mounted like triggers.

The ghostly image of a Windows operating system desktop doesn't interfere significantly with a wearer's field of vision, but seeing the screen, no matter which way you turn your head, can be a little disorienting, said Darwen Perez, a computer programmer from New York, who tried out the PC at the show. "It's something you could get used to, though," he added.

Field testing for the wearable computer started with airplane manufacturers and ship inspectors -- workers who need access to detailed information and their hands free at the same time, said Istvan Lovas, an optical engineer for IBM.

"When the field guys were inspecting ships for damage, crawling into tight spaces, they couldn't carry a (traditional) computer with them," he said.

IBM's wearable computer uses standard computer processing chips and can run Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 98 operating system. The shoulder sash with the computer's processor and memory weighs about a pound or two. Although the device is comparatively light, it's still big and bulky enough to qualify as a major fashion accessory -- a fact that deterred at least one user.

"I'm an older lady. I don't like to carry things," said Eva Simonyi, an exhibitor at PC Expo who tried out the wearable PC. "If I can put it in my pocket, then I'll use it."

IBM in Armonk, New York, can be reached at +1-914-499-1900 or http://www.ibm.com/.

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