Wearable patents take off

Wearable patents take off

Summary: Orang-Otang monkey around with personal computing

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TOPICS: Hardware
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A wearable-computing company specialising in wireless items this week won several patents for devices including a credit card terminal that fits on a wrist and can print receipts.

The other devices from Orang-Otang Computers sound more like they should be worn by characters from the "Star Trek" movies: a phone that fits under a shirt sleeve and slides into the palm with a flick of the hand, a digital audio recorder for the wrist that hides in a shirt when not in use. There's also a wearable laptop and a wearable camera.

But while it all might sound like monkey business, Orang-Otang has found a marketplace for some of its earlier patented inventions. They include the Peel-It, a device that fits a PDA (personal digital assistant) onto a swivelling platform that's worn around a wrist. The Peel-It, which costs about $50 (£35), has been sold on eBay and Yahoo auctions.

Orang-Otang chief executive Shelly Harrison predicts the same type of success for the newly patented products, which have names like the Jango Wearable Credit Card Terminal, the Flippo Audio Recorder and the Jango Wearable Midi Instrument. "These innovations take personal computing and wireless communication technology to another level of mobility and convenience," he said in a statement.

Wearable computing is a small industry that has gained some attention, particularly for the offbeat nature of its products. Internet habitués get a daily dose of it when visiting such sites as Slashdot.org, which routinely augments some of its stories with a picture of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates seemingly wearing a head-mounted computer.

But some analysts think that such devices have their place, what with gadgets such as PDAs expected to number in the hundreds of millions in the next few years.

Brian Fobes, the creator of Extreme Computing, a directory of wearable-computing projects, said the industry is just now grabbing the attention of the public. Actual products are likely about two to five years away from mass-market acceptance. "It's on the fringe," he said. "Most people have failed when trying to introduce it to the mass market."

Yet these same companies are also starting to gain a modicum of interest from the investment community. Tactex Controls, which makes a fabric used in some wearable devices, this week received a $140,000 research grant from the Canadian government.

And even big companies such as IBM have been exploring the industry. Big Blue is reportedly set to build and co-market a system of wearable computing from Xybernaut, which makes a wearable computer that features a way for the computer to act upon voice commands.

Xybernaut, which holds hundreds of wearable computing patents, says users of the products include employees at Federal Express and Bell Canada, and members of the US Armed Forces.

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Topic: Hardware

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