Mobile computing is evolving from handheld to hands-free with the introduction of a new headset-mounted computer that may soon be helping first responders and technicians record and stream data back to headquarters, or view information, building diagrams or schematics using voice commands and head movements.
The Motorola HC1 is a headset computer consisting of a headset, built in video camera, microphones, earpiece and a “view pod.” Designed entirely for hands-free use, the computer is controlled through a combination of voice commands and head movements, explained Nicole Tricoukes, a business innovation manager at Motorola Solutions. The computer will be commercially available in the first half of 2013.
The HC1 uses a small viewing monitor that extends from the headset, just below the wearer’s eye. That allows the user to have unobstructed use of both eyes and enhances safety, Tricoukes said. To access the computer, the user looks down into the pod. The headset also allows users to rotate images to view different angles. This movement is done with verbal commands and head movements.
The adjustable viewing display provides the same experience as looking at a 15-inch screen, Tricoukes said. The computer is designed so that a user can access it occasionally as a reference, what she refers to as “information snacking.” Head movements allow a technician to scroll through a document.
The computer was originally developed to allow maintenance and technical personnel to access data such as aircraft wiring diagrams. Fully ruggedized for use in the field, Tricoukes noted that all of the HC1’s processing technology is built into the headset.
This differs greatly from earlier attempts at wearable computers, which usually consisted of a monocle viewer, a belt mounted processor and a controller worn on the wrist. All of these different components were connected by wires, which can easily get snagged when working on the inside of an aircraft, or trying to crawl into a collapsed building, she said.
The computer’s inner workings such as the processor, memory and accelerometers used to gauge head movement are all derived from current Motorola mobile devices, Tricoukes said. The HC1 also uses Windows applications, which allows it to display schematics. Earlier wearable computers could not handle the graphics, exploded views and diagrams, she said.
A micro-SD card allows the computer to load and store information when operating in areas with limited or no Wi-Fi access. The built-in camera also provides an augmented reality capability by overlaying the user’s screen view with important data such as wiring or piping schematics.
Besides allowing remote experts to view what the wearer is working on, the camera can take photographs, or provide annotated information via the view pod to the wearer, such as listing wiring or fuse types in an aircraft.
Because noise can be a challenge for voice command systems, the HC1 has two microphones. A combination of hardware and software creates a noise cancelling system, Tricoukes said. The computer can “learn” the user’s voice and pick it out over background noise.
Additionally, the headset has natural language voice processing capable of understanding simple commands. The wearer can program the computer to know a lexicon of commands and speech instructions to suite the role it will be used in. She claims that the voice recognition software is 98% to 99% accurate in understanding spoken commands.
The headset’s camera can transmit data via a BlueTooth/Wi-Fi link, allowing the wearer to connect to remote experts. Tricoukes noted that Motorola’s partner companies have created a support business to provide expert assistance to technicians using the HC1. This virtual expert assistance is very useful for maintenance and technical personnel, she said.
The military has shown interest in the computer, for both maintenance and medical applications, she said, but the headset also has a number of potential uses for law enforcement and emergency response teams, she said.