Finger Phones: An Earful of an Invention

Masaaki Fukumoto, a 36-year-old senior research engineer at NTT DoCoMo's Media Computing Lab, got the idea during a conference on wearable computers in 1997. The device he invented soon after is a wearable wireless phone that consists only of a wristband. The band houses a tiny microphone, plus a device that converts audio signals into vibrations. To hear incoming calls, the wearer puts a finger in one ear. The caller's voice is converted to vibrations, which travel through the hand, the finger and into the ear canal. The wearer talks back via the wristband's microphone.

That's not the only sleight of hand necessary. To answer the phone, called Whisper because incoming calls cause the wristband to vibrate, the wearer taps their thumb and index finger together. No buttons to press, no keypad to control. Fukumoto says users can send multiple commands to the wristband by tapping their fingers in various rhythms. Fukumoto also plans to add voice recognition to the system for vocal commands.

Demos of the prototype work well, but there are obstacles to Whisper ever becoming a product. "In Japan or the US, people are not willing to wear wearable devices," Fukumoto says. "The only gadget that people allow themselves to wear today is a wristwatch."

He hopes that Whisper would come to market by 2005. Meanwhile, NTT DoCoMo continues to fund the project, Fukumoto said. He's gotten at least "several hundred thousand dollars" but won't be more specific.

"Sooner or later, wireless phones will look more like earplugs, and people will wear them," Fukumoto says. "We just have to establish a culture that registers an idea with people that wearing a device is a cool thing."

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Struggling for Christmas presents this year? Check out our Christmas Gift Guide for some top tech suggestions and more.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Most Popular Reviews

Follow Us

Best Deals on GoodGearGuide

Shopping.com

Latest News Articles

Resources

GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell

LIFEBOOK UH574

The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi

STYLISTIC Q702

The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott

STYLISTIC Q702

My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.

Latest Jobs

Shopping.com

Donā€™t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?