Motorola Solutions unveiled a new "wearable computer" today that doesn't require your hands to operate it.
The so-called HC1 is a headset that takes voice commands, understands head gestures and does video streaming to navigate your applications. It also can be used in locations where using a laptop or handheld device just isn't practical, such as workers in the field, military defense forces, or public safety teams, the company said.
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The headset, which could cost between $4,000 to $5,000, also can connect to local Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and work with your smartphone to send and receive data, place voice calls or use a GPS.
Schaumburg and New York engineers and other team members designed the new headset that is expected to advance computing for mobile workforces, said Nicole Tricoukes, senior "maverick" in Motorola Solutions' chief technology office.
"We like to think of it like a dashboard in a car, or 'information snacking,'" she said.
Images seen through the new headset can zoom in and out, freeze or pan an area, she added.
"If someone is in the field and stuck on a problem, and needs technology fast, they can even place a call and get instant feedback," Tricoukes said.
The headset has been in development for about two years and will be available for sale early next year, she said.
While Motorola's new device takes mobile computing to a different level, such wearable technology has been advancing for about 20 years, especially for the ever-increasing mobile workforce, fire, police and other emergency responders, as well as the military.
Some of Motorola's earliest devices 20 years ago were worn on the hand and scanned bar codes. Others became more sophisticated over the years and were wearable on the arm or hand and provided more features as technology advanced.
Wearable technology has been a staple in the health care and medical fields, for example, for patients to wear to monitor their heart, alert pendants that signal a fall, or for doctors to incorporate patient data. Fitness and wellness industry pros also use various heart-rate and respiratory rate monitoring and calorie consumption data devices. And the so-called infotainment industry has people using smart watches and other products.
About 14 million wearable devices of all kinds were shipped in 2011 worldwide. That number is expected to increase anywhere from 39 million to 171 million by 2016, said Theo Ahadome, an analyst of the wearable technology industry for IHS iSuppli.
But a lot depends on how that advancing technology is used and accepted.
"The downside forecast is a conservative forecast, which assumes that the adoption of wearable technology will be limited by factors including lack of products, poor user compliance and lack of an overall enhanced experience from devices that are wearable as compared to non-wearable products," Ahadome said. Despite the advances, many of these devices can be clunky and large, compared to the typical consumer's sleek and sexy smartphones, experts said.
As technology continues to streamline the look and feel of such products, don't discount them from crossing over to consumers like the Blackberry did years ago, said Dave Meeker, director of emerging technologies at Chicago-based Roundarch Isobar.
"It's like the consumerization of the enterprise devices," Meeker said. "We might see a reverse push of all this wearable technology."
One day getting such a wearable computer could be a smart strategy, Meeker said.
"It opens more opportunities into new territories," Meeker said.