Updated: January 10, 2013 6:19AM
The virtual, three-dimensional displays that floated in air during Star Trek leadership meetings have become real, and are easing the work lives of machinists, construction managers and utility line repairers.
Motorola Solutions, the Schaumburg-based maker of walkie-talkies and bar-code readers, is selling a headset computer worn under a hard hat that calls up and displays complex drawings just below the worker’s line of sight.
In typical geek speak, it’s called the HC1 headset computer.
The device, which will be on the market by summer 2013, will let workers search for a drawing or other files and zoom in for a close-up by using voice commands, keeping their hands free to continue the task at hand.
The worker may pan or tilt the drawing by tilting or turning his or her head.
The worker can share the document with colleagues elsewhere.
Through a wireless telecom network, the worker can talk to a colleague over Wi-fi or Bluetooth via audio and draw “chalk” notes in real time. The computer is embedded with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi wireless technology.
“I can send this image back to a remote expert whose help I need, and that person can see exactly what I’m seeing,” said Tom Bianculli, senior director of emerging business opportunities at Motorola Solutions’ Chief Technology Office. “I can lock in the visual on the display and zoom into a detailed drawing or schematic.”
How does it work?
The display appears as a view of a 15-inch laptop screen. In reality, the technology is a “near eye micro display” that uses optics to project back the image toward a person’s eye as he glances down at the display.
Motorola uses the term “information snacking” to describe how a person interacts with the computer, experiencing it just like looking at a laptop screen when typing or seeing the dashboard of a car.
A battery that lasts an entire shift powers the computer, and is designed to be easily removed and changed.
Though the HC1 carries a hefty list price of $4,000 to $5,000, the computer could save that much money in an hour if a worker could restore a critical and expensive piece of equipment, Bianculli said.
The goal is to make the computing technology second nature so workers can focus on what’s important — the job at hand, he said.
Another paradigm-shifting example of what is becoming known as wearable computing is a headband that senses the wearer’s brainwaves and lets him or her concentrate to reduce stress and improve memory and concentration.
The hope is that the wearer can eventually learn to control devices and computer applications merely by thinking.
The headband, called Muse, is slated for distribution in mid-2013, and buyers who order them contribute to their development. The crowdfunding effort is at the IndieGoGo site at indiegogo.com/interaxonmuse. The campaign, which started Oct. 22 and continues through Dec. 7, aims to sell 2,000 Muses. They range in price from $145 to $190, depending on the complexity of the software bundled with them.
The headband sits across the wearer’s forehead and behind his ears like a pair of glasses.
The developers, a Toronto-based team of artists, engineers, designers and neuroscientists at InteraXon, equipped the headband with Bluetooth so that it can connect to an app on an iPhone, iPad or Android device.
The training app “reads” the user’s brain waves, tracks performance and lets the user “practice” refocusing from negative to positive thoughts and improving cognitive skills.
The so-called Integrated Brain Health System lets people learn to better concentrate, stay relaxed, get motivated or maintain composure in stressful situations.
“Other people working on EEG spend most of their time thinking about the technology,” said company CEO and co-founder Ariel Garten, who said she feels overwhelmed to see 10 years of work turn into a consumer product.
“At InteraXon, we’re thinking about solutions that make sense in everyday life.”
Garten predicts it will take 20 years before it’s “natural” for people to use thought control in the same way they now use their voice and gestures.
The innovations are just the latest from InteraXon and Motorola Solutions.
InteraXon demonstrated what it called “thought control computing” at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Users put on a headset embedded with electrodes that could “read” brain waves and send them to a computer for processing.
The users concentrated on controlling the lights on three landmark buildings: the CN Tower, Niagara Falls and the Parliament buildings.
More than 15 years ago, Motorola developed a wrist-mounted computer with a cable running to a barcode scanner on the index finger, enabling postal and parcel workers to scan and sort packages.
In those days, the effort was about taking a standard mobile computing experience and figuring out clever ways to make it wearable, allowing workers to operate more efficiently, Bianculli said.
“Now, we’re taking that to the next level and evolving the interface and user experience into something much closer to a human-based model,” he said.
Indeed, wearable technology is already a fast-growing market.
Whether it was augmented-reality eyeglasses or sports bras that monitor the wearer’s heart rate, 14 million such devices were shipped in 2011, according to IMS Research.
The highest revenue-generating categories were in healthcare and fitness, with glucose monitors the highest-grossing device, IMS Research said.
Shipments are likely to skyrocket by more than 500 percent to 92.5 million units by 2016, the research firm reports.
“Wearable technologies provide a range of benefits, from informing and entertaining to monitoring health, to improving fitness, to enhancing military and industry applications,” said Theo Ahadome, senior analyst for medical research at IMS.