Wrist-worn computer delivers rich data to first responders
Italy-based Eurotech recently released a 7-ounce, wrist-worn personal computer, or WWPC, that promises to deliver real-time, rich data — such as maps and building floor plans — to first responders and local, state and federal agency personnel.
According to Roberto Turchi, Eurotech product manager, the company’s research team focused on developing a low-power, ergonomic device with miniaturized components that would let users multitask in a hands-free environment.
“The main difference between [the WWPC and] a conventional mobile PC, a PDA, a laptop and a hand-held is that [a user] cannot do other tasks at the same time using these technologies,” Turchi said.
The WWPC can access a remote host system through a wired or wireless interface; integrates GPS, Bluetooth, Fast Infrared and wireless LAN; and lets users share information between multiple agencies worldwide, a plus for first responders at emergency incidents.
“The user can be connected to the operations center, send it data about the location and the environment and receive feedback,” Turchi said.
In addition to wireless data capabilities, a built-in sensor detects a motionless user and then triggers a location beacon that transmits the user’s whereabouts. The company backs up this safeguard with a guarantee of more than eight hours of operation provided by the device’s two-cell, lithium-ion rechargeable batteries.
Speaking of batteries, vendors spend considerable resources to address battery life in wireless devices, according to David Witkowski, a member of the Wireless Communications Alliance’s board of directors, who questioned how Eurotech would deliver the extended battery life it promises. The answer, according to Eurotech, is the WWPC’s tilt feature, which detects the position of the user’s arm and puts the device in stand-by mode when the arm is hanging parallel to the body.
Another issue is security, according to Witkowski. Hand-helds are susceptible to “snooping,” he said, also questioning whether the WWPC could hold up in harsh environments, such as a HAZMAT situation or in extreme heat or cold.
“[First responder] equipment has to be able to take a lot of abuse,” he said. “The WWPC would have to be ruggedized for those types of deployments, which would add more weight.”
Though Turchi believes the WWPC might make other mobile communication products now used by first responders obsolete — because it purportedly sends data and voice information more quickly during an emergency compared with standard hand-held devices — not everyone is buying. Pat Lanthier, principal of consultancy Lanthier & Associates, said first responders might be hesitant to trade in hand-held portables for a WWPC because it likely won’t deliver the instant voice communications emergency responders are used to at an incident. Consequently, incident commanders and first responders likely would resort to their push-to-talk radios when they arrive on the scene, he said.
“People are used to doing things a certain way,” Lanthier said. “It will take a long time to change that mindset and for products like the WWPC to be widespread and replace push-to-talk radios.”
The product — which is targeted to the transportation and logistics, field service, industrial manufacturing, government, military, public safety, health care and utilities sectors — will be available in June 2006, according to Eurotech.