Tech Industry

Computers off the rack from IBM

Big Blue reveals a prototype of its Wearable PC, a light computer that includes a screen on a headset.

Call it the "smart-hat."

IBM has revealed a prototype of its Wearable PC, a computer with the power of a laptop that comes in a package the size of a portable CD player and includes a headset-mounted, 3-inch display.

The Wearable PC can be seen as both a harbinger of future product directions as well as a showcase for the latest technology from IBM. Wearable PC Products similar to the prototype are expected to start appearing in Japan in the latter half of 1999. At the same time, the prototype uses technology coming out now, such as the IBM microdrive disk which was announced earlier this month.

The prototype shares a number of characteristics with an ordinary computer. It contains a 233-MHz Pentium MMX chip and 64MB of memory, the same as some of the lower priced versions of IBM's ThinkPad 560 and 380 notebooks. And, like these notebooks, the Wearable PC is powerful enough to run standard applications as well as software like IBM's ViaVoice speech software.

The major differences are that the Wearable PC is extremely light and you wear part of it on your head. The Wearable PC weighs in at 10.5 ounces, including battery. The unit uses a small, hand-held TrackPoint unit for input.

The Wearable PC is "envisioned as an ultra-convenient information tool for maintenance, repair, and system installation personnel," according to IBM's web site. "(It) can display wiring diagrams, schematics inventory lists--even videos. Users will be able to work and call up information on the eye-level display while keeping their hands free."

Big Blue revealed the prototype at IBM Fair '98 in Tokyo. IBM Japan says it will sell it by the latter half of 1999, although its price and other details have not been decided yet, according to the online edition of Nikkei Business Publications.

"Initially, we think the Wearable PC will find applications in business. I think you'll see people using these at aircraft flight gates, repairing your copier or tuning your car's engine," said IBM researcher Russell Budd in a statement. "Eventually, well, who originally thought people would wear radios and compact disk players?"

At the IBM Fair '98, IBM also unveiled a set-top box with an embedded hard disk drive. The set-top boxes come in two types, one for communication satellite digital broadcasting and another for digital cable TV broadcasting. Both types use a 2.5-inch hard drive with 3.2GB of storage.

The hard drive can be used for recording movies, although at 3.2GB, only a single movie can be stored.