Motorola Solutions last month showcased at the Utilities Telecom Council's conference in Long Beach, Calif., a prototype of a mobile headset computer dubbed "Golden-i," which provides field workers with hands-free access to data and video. The device was conceived and developed by Taunton, Mass.–based Kopin Corp., a vendor of ultra-small LCD displays, in conjunction with Motorola and a slew of other players, including Texas Instruments and Microsoft.

The device un-tethers field workers from the mobile data terminals or rugged laptop computers in their service or emergency vehicles. Here's how it works: the user looks through a viewfinder that is positioned just below his field of vision, so as not to be distracting; he sees through the viewfinder a simulated desktop display that consists of several icons relating to various data and video files; speaking into a noise-cancelling microphone, he commands the system to open an instructional video, an act that is aided by the system's speech-recognition software; the command is transmitted via Bluetooth to the MDT or laptop, which opens the video file; the video then is transmitted back to the headset, again via Bluetooth, to the headset; finally, it is watched through the viewfinder. In addition, the system can connect via Wi-Fi to an enterprise's WLAN.

The headset eliminates the need to carry data devices to a job site, which would be particularly advantageous for field technicians or military personnel working in remote or rugged environments. Also advantageous is the hands-free feature, which is designed to improve worker productivity. The device is targeted to the industrial, retail, warehouse, telecom, utility and construction sectors, as well as military and public safety. For instance, police and fire incident commanders wearing the headset could move away from their command vehicles to gain a greater degree of situational awareness; also, emergency medical technicians could use the system to participate in a video teleconference in order to provide more effective treatment to patients. Other features include integrated GPS and a digital compass.

Motorola also has been investing considerable time, effort and money in working with third-party applications developers. Specifically, Motorola and its partners have been churning out mapping, GIS, turn-by-turn navigation, and workforce management applications. For example, one application developed in concert with Aliso Viejo, Calif.–based Telogis overlays a database that indicates the location and status of every utility pole that a utility owns onto a map. "Utilities have a huge base — both fixed and mobile — and it really helps to know what's happening out there," said Scott Propp, a senior director for Motorola Solutions.

As might be expected, video applications are getting a lot of attention. Not only are such applications useful for surveillance and situational awareness, they also are productivity enhancers. For example, power-line splices can be tricky, and those utility workers most experienced in making them are beginning to retire. Consequently, younger workers may not be as adept or, even worse, may not have been trained to execute them. Rather than shutting down an operation, workers can get help by downloading video that shows them exactly what to do, and how to do it.