C3 Expo walkthru #2: Vein recognition, ruggedized notebooks, Bluetooth headgear, and more

Here in NYC on the second day of C3 Expo, I blocked out the evening for a visit over to Pepcom's Digital Experience event at the Metropolitan Pavilion.  Technically speaking, Digital Experience is not a C3 event.
Written by David Berlind, Inactive

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Here in NYC on the second day of C3 Expo, I blocked out the evening for a visit over to Pepcom's Digital Experience event at the Metropolitan Pavilion.  Technically speaking, Digital Experience is not a C3 event.  But Pepcom, it's organizer, has been running this event almost every year that there has been a technology show at the Javits Center at the end of June (and there have been a great many of those, all under about four different names).  It's a press-only event and it's an opportunity for the attendees to roam around and get a look at the technology being offered by about 40 to 50 vendors.  With my Edirol R-4 digital recorder and a microphone in hand, I walked around the 50,000 square feet of open space to see the supposedly latest greatest stuff.  You can download the audio version of my walkabout manually or, if you're subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, it'll be downloaded to your system or MP3 player automatically (see ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in).

My first stop was at Fujitsu's table where I got to see PalmSecure -- a biometric technology that was recently introduced by the company that authenticates users on the basis of vein pattern recognition rather than iris scans or fingerprint readers.  Using non-harming infrared technology, a scanner peers beneath the layers of skin on your hand and essentially matches the pattern of your veins (not your arteries though) to the a pattern that's stored in the system when you first "register" your palm.  The infrared sensor demo'd by Fujitsu connected to a laptop PC using a USB port.  But it was really just a demo.  Technically speaking, the sensor could be placed anywhere (embedded in a wall for example).  It's the software that matters.  In fact, Fujitsu won't be selling PalmSecure to consumers or through the retail channel. Instead, the company is selling it to developers who in turn may develop applications that rely on the technology. 

The cost of the software development kit is approximately $5,000 and it comes with a scanner. According to Fujitsu, vein scanning is appropriate in situations where organizations are seeking the ultimate in biometric security (better than fingerprint or iris scanning).  During the interview, I learned of another "scanning " technique that Fujitsu is working on --- on that examines the way you walk.  Apparently, it's very difficult to disguise yourself if someone can accurately scan your gate. 

After visiting the Fujitsu table, I made my way over to Motorola to ask about a Bluetooth headset for the Moto Q smartphone I've been carrying around.  Since the phone is capable of both stereo audio playback (in addition to being a phone), I've been on the market for a combined bluetooth headset:  One that has two earcups for playing back stereo audio, but one that can also serve as a hands-free wireless headset when using the phone.  Earlier in the day, I actually stopped by a few electronics stores (New York City has them on almost every block) looking for such a device but none of the stores had one. But they do exist.  Motorola for example has one on the market now (being shown at Digtal Experience) -- the HT820 -- which is a "behind the ear-model" where the connecting strap between the two earcups wraps around behind your head.  If the phone rings while you're listening to music, the music will automatically stop so you can take the call, and it's all operated by the push of a button on the side of the headgear.  If you Google HT820, you'll see that it can be had for under $100. 

But, before you buy one, you might want to look into the company's new S805 which is due to come out in the US in the next couple of weeks.  With it's bigger earcups and a strap that goes over the top of the head, the S805 targets audiophiles who are bit more demanding when it comes to audio quality.  Moto expects the 805 to retail for about $100.  Merged stereo and hands-free functionality is strictly the domain of Bluetooth AD2P profile.  Before buying this sort of headgear, make sure what ever it is you're connecting to it (a phone, a computer, etc.) supports that profile.

While roaming around the pavilion, I checked out Panasonics Toughbooks.  These are notebook computers that are built to take a licking and keep on ticking.  While I was standing there (and you can hear this on the audio), the Panasonic representative that I was talking to took one of the Toughbooks while it was running, held it about 5 to 6 inches over the tabletop, and dropped it (in the audio, you can hear me asking him to drop it on the floor from above his head but he completely ignored this request). After falling to the table with an impact that I'd never want to try on my Thinkpad (or any notebook for that matter), the notebook didn't seem to miss a beat. According to Panasonic, the military has rated its more heavily ruggedized notebooks to survive drops of up to 3 feet.  Panasonic has three grades of ruggedization and the notebooks start at around $2000.  They don't have pointing sticks (the equivalent of IBM's Trackpoints) on their keyboards though.  So, for me, that rules out any of Panasonics notebooks.  I know it's a matter of preference, but I cannot work with a touchpad (which is what the Toughbooks come with).

Speaking of notebooks, towards the end of my walkabout, I checked out HP's table where they had seven different notebooks (one of which was based on AMD's Turion).  From a distance, with their sleek black design, I thought they were Thinkpads.  It's not until you get up close that you see from the branding that they're HP notebooks (and not Lenovo's).    Except for their ultralight sub-3 lb. notebook, one of the cooler things that the entire HP linup supports is a wedge shapped battery that snaps onto the bottom (of the notebooks) and that extends battery life by as many as 12 hours.  Even better, just about all of them have a pointing stick.  The seven notebooks being displayed range from a big heavy multimedia workhorse that uses Intel's CoreDuo processors to the sub 3-pounder that, according to HP, will be getting Intel's new CoreDuo processor soon.  Another cool feature of some of HP's notebooks is that they're EVDO ready (EVDO is the 3G technology that's used by Sprint and Verizon Wireless to run their wireless broadband networks).  "EVDO-ready" means that they come with the necessary antennaes and supporting electronics built into the industrial design.  What this means is that that you don't have to pay extra for an EVDO radio when you buy your notebook. You can wait and if, later, you decide to add an EVDO radio, you buy the consumer upgradable module, put it into your notebook, and the module will take advantage of the antennae technology that's already built-in to the chassis.

NeatReceipt was also displaying its technology at the event.  Neatreceipt makes a scanner that about the size of a 3-hole holepunch thats designed to scan and OCR receipts (like the kind that you collect on a business trip).  The scanners can also digest business cards as well.  In my experience, business card scanners never did a very good job because of all the crazy designs people choose for their business cards.  But the folks at Neatreceipt ckaim that receipt scanning is even more difficult than business card scanning and now that they've got receipt scanning down to a science, they're the most accurate business scanner on the market.  I may have to try one out.


One of the cooler products I saw was something called GuardID.  It's a USB-based security token and yes, there are already lots of those on the market.  But this one, according to the GuardID folks, is designed to securely log you into any financial or banking site.  According to GuardID Systems COO Bill Loesch:

You store your UserID and your password on this physical token.  You go and you plug it into your machine and you click on Chase.  You enter the pin to unlock this token.  The program goes out and it goes to chase and it retrieves the IP address of where you're being directed. Then, before it passes the credentials, it goes to the GuardID site and checks the IP address against the IP address we have in our database for Chase.

So, this works independently of the banks (in other words, no explicit support is required from your bank or financial institution).   As far as I can tell, GuardID doesn't keep other people from logging into your accounts. In other words, if they somehow manage to get your ID and your password, someone else can easily go login as you.  For a token of this nature to prevent that from happening, the bank would have to explicitly require it in order to login.  That said, this token could prevent you from divulging confidential information to the wrong Web site.  How might you end up divulging such information to hackers in the first place?  Well, perhaps a phisher did a good job of tricking you into going to his or her version of your bank's home page.  Or, maybe your bank's homepage could be hacked (it just happened not too long ago).  By making sure that you're going to the write IP address to do your banking, GuardID goes a longer way towards making sure that you're doing business with the site you think you're doing business with instead of an imposter.  During the interview, Loesch and I talked about whether this device could end up taking the place of the Trusted Platform Module's going into lots of computers.

Before the night was over, I also talked to the guys at Xandros.  They really think they've got destkop Linux so nailed that there's little if any reason not to give it a try on your desktop or notebook computer.  It costs $79 which is one of the key differences between it and Ubuntu  (which is free and has been getting a lot of ink recently).  The Xandros guys went into great detail in describing the key advantages of using Xandros of Ubuntu and we talked a little bit about the challenges of getting their operating system preloaded onto systems by system manufacturers.  Until that starts happening, I still don't see a huge uptake in desktop Linux. Most people are loathe to strip their computers of the operating system that came installed on it.  Plus, if you have a 3-year on-site warranty with that Dell notebook you just bought and you decide to wipe out Windows and put something like Xandros on it, you won't be able to count on the repairman that shows up at your door to do anything about a system that's not running Windows.  During the interview, the Xandros guys and I talk a little bit about this challenge.

Lastly, I roamed over to the GoToWebinar table.  Brought to you by the same people who do the very cool GoToMyPC (now a division of Citrix), GoToWebinar is designed for small businesses (or even enterprises for that matter) that want to do WebEx style webinars for a fraction of the cost.  I was pretty convinced and if anything, WebEx may have to drop its price in order to deal with the way the folks at this Citrix-division just re-invented the webinar category (at least from a cost perspective).  

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