Wearable computer maker chooses Crusoe chip

Wearable computer-maker Via chose the Crusoe chip because it offers low power and low heat requirements, while still offering the processing power to run applications that mobile workers might use, Via President Ed McConaghay said in a statement.

The Crusoe chip has more readily been seen in laptops from Sony, NEC, Fujitsu and Hitachi. In recent weeks, IBM and Compaq have decided to cancel plans for laptops that would have used the Crusoe chip.

During the first quarter of 2001, Via will begin offering its wearable computers, which will come with 700MHz Crusoe processors and run Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system, Via spokeswoman Nancy Crowe said.

The full function PC is about the size of two card decks laid end-to-end and is worn on a belt around the waist, she said. The unit has a 6.4GB hard drive and 64MB or RAM. It weighs about 1.35kg with its batteries included.

The base model will start at $US2000 (around $3700) and go up to $US5000 (around $9200) with applications and peripherals added on. The wearable PC is designed to work with Via's new SVGA (Super Video Graphics Array) indoor readable display or its indoor/outdoor display. Pricing on the displays was not immediately available.

Input into the Via wearable computer can be done by voice or from a touch-screen display. The units are designed to handle bumps and bruises of everyday use, including withstanding a four-foot drop, according to Crowe.

US airline Northwest is using the current generation of Via's wearable computers for customer check-ins and non-routine aircraft maintenance, Crowe said. Via's current wearable computers, such as the Via 2 Wearable PC, use 166MHz Cyrix processors.

"Our computers are currently being used for customer service management, supply-based management, inspection, quality control or maintenance. For the most part, it is a type of tool that most consumers would not see, except for like how Northwest is using it for its gate agents."

Early versions of the Crusoe-based wearable computers are already being used by the US Military Police in field tests. The program is financed by the US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The computers being tested don't look much different from a regular backpack, said Henry Girolamo, program manager of the US Army Soldier Systems centre in Natick, Massachusetts. The Via computers being tested by the Army weigh less than a pound not including the battery, use a 600MHz Crusoe chip, and can be controlled by voice or the click of a mouse on a officer's belt, he said.

About 20 military police officers recently tested the wearable computers, Girolamo said. Officers ran the computers through a series of drills to test streaming video, face recognition, speech recognition, mapping settings and conferences and voice translation. The soldiers saw the video display of the computer on a VGA (Video Graphics Array) screen embedded in their glasses or a clip-on display.

"It has all the same look and feel of looking at a 13in monitor," Girolamo said of the 800 x 600 VGA display, developed by MicroOptical.

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