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Metricom changes focus with modem camera

With the clock ticking toward its potential September demise, the maker of the Ricochet wireless modem is trying a new plan for generating profits--taking photographs.

With the clock ticking toward its potential September demise, Metricom, the maker of the Ricochet wireless modem, is trying a new plan for generating profits--taking photographs.

On Monday, the company, which operates a high-speed wireless data service, will announce it has teamed up with Ricoh's peripheral business unit to combine the Ricochet wireless modem into the Ricoh i700, the 67-year-old equipment provider's "industrial strength" camera.

The camera is designed to offer "fast, reliable wireless transfer of large digital image files," enabling industries such as insurance or emergency services to send images directly from the field, according to a joint statement issued by Metricom and Ricoh.

Digital photography has soared in popularity and reinvigorated the camera industry. That has led to the next step: embedding cameras into wirelessly enabled devices. But Samsung has beaten Metricom to the punch, already releasing a cell phone with a camera attachment.

Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Lightsurf, founded by Philippe Kahn, is working with Motorola to embed a tiny camera into wireless phone handsets.

The alliance with Ricoh may not be enough to save Metricom, Analysts said. Metricom told the Securities and Exchange Commission that it would run out of cash by September. It had reported $327 million in working capital in February, but the most recent filing said it would need $500 million to survive.

Metricom also is coming off a poor fourth quarter. The company reported a quarterly loss of $114 million, almost double the size for the same period the previous year.