Computerized warriors

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — A mechanic crawls under an Army tank with a computer strapped to his belt and a keyboard on his wrist. A tiny camera clipped to a futuristic headset beams pictures back to colleagues, who whisper repair instructions through the headset speaker.

The once-fictional vision of Dick Tracy’s wearable computers has given way to reality at the Army’s Fort Monmouth in New Jersey and at other military repair depots nationwide where such devices are now in daily use.

Government officials impressed with their miniaturization and speed already are envisioning new uses that would take wearable computers to the battlefield — and beyond.

"Wearable computers may be the future not only for Mars expeditions, but for many future space missions," said Pascal Lee, project scientist with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

Packed with the same computing power as some laptops, wearables are still too expensive for average consumers. A top-of-the-line model could run about $10,000.

But businesses and the military are finding them a perfect fit.

Right now, wearables are mostly used for military repairs. They allow users to get untethered from desks, crawl under a plane and have all their technical manuals online.

"They can crawl in and around their systems, like a helicopter, tank or a truck, and they don’t need to carry anything around. Everything is pre-loaded and strapped onto their body," said Jay Koerner at the Army Communications Electronics Command at Fort Monmouth.

But the Pentagon has bigger plans with its Land Warrior experiment.

Over the next decade, soldiers will be able to fight in combat with satellite imagery of the battlefield, ballistic accuracy calculations and instant communications a click away on the computers embedded in their uniforms.

With a global positioning system, thermal weapon sights and other gadgets, a soldier can immediately identify friends and enemies and see where his shots will hit.

"He’s a totally 100 percent integrated system," said Maj. Brian Cummings, a system manager with the Land Warrior program at Fort Benning, Ga. "That computer is basically controlling and managing all the subsystems he’s wearing."

The Land Warrior experiment plans to field-test wearable computers by 2003 and outfit all soldiers by 2008. The Army has spent nearly $400 million over the past five years developing the program.

Major companies like General Electric, Northwest Airlines and Ford Motor Co. are also experimenting with the devices. Two major contractors, Xybernaut of Fairfax, Va., and Via of Burnsville, Minn., are competing to expand the government’s use.

With Xybernaut’s machines, the computer’s processor, hard drive and battery attach to a belt around the user’s waist. A keyboard straps to the wrist and a headset includes the speakers, a display positioned over the user’s eye and a small video camera to let other people see what the user sees.

One application the Navy is considering would enable a technician wearing a wireless, headmounted camera to send an image to a remote expert who could "literally walk you through whatever the repair may be," Xybernaut senior vice president John Moynihan said.

The latest wearables are more durable and more mobile than laptop computers.

"A notebook is not a mobile computer, it’s a stationary computer that’s easy to move," Moynihan said, adding that the Xybernaut device can withstand a three-foot drop and is water-resistant. "It’s not designed to be dunked, but it can certainly withstand exposure to the elements," he said.

Copyright ©2001 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Talk to us

More in Herald Business Journal

FILE - In this Monday, March 23, 2020, file photo, a worker walks near a mural of a Boeing 777 airplane at the company's manufacturing facility in Everett, Wash., north of Seattle. Beginning in 2024, some 737 planes will be built in Everett, the company announced to workers on Monday. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
With 747 out, Boeing to open new 737 Max line at Everett’s Paine Field

Since the last 747 rolled out of the factory, speculation has been rife that Boeing might move some 737 Max production to Everett.

IonQ will open a new quantum computing manufacturing and research center at 3755 Monte Villa Parkway in Bothell. (Photo courtesy of IonQ)
Quantum computing firm IonQ to open Bothell R&D center

IonQ says quantum computing systems are key to addressing climate change, energy and transportation.

Nathanael Engen, founder of Black Forest Mushrooms, sits in the lobby of Think Tank Cowork with his 9-year-old dog, Bruce Wayne, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2023, in downtown Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Growing green mushrooms in downtown Everett

The founder of Black Forest Mushrooms plans to grow gourmet mushrooms locally, reducing their carbon footprint.

Barb Lamoureux, 78, poses for a photo at her office at 1904 Wetmore Ave in Everett, Washington on Monday, Jan. 23, 2023. Lamoureux, who founded Lamoureux Real Estate in 2004, is retiring after 33 years. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Barb Lamoureux, ‘North Everett’s Real Estate Agent’ retires

A longtime supporter of Housing Hope, Lamoureux helped launch the Windermere Foundation Golf Tournament.

AGC Biologics in Bothell to produce new diabetes treatment

The contract drug manufacturer paired with drug developer Provention Bio to bring the new therapy to market.

FILE - In this file photo dated Monday, March 11, 2019, rescuers work at the scene of an Ethiopian Airlines plane crash south of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  The number of deaths in major air crashes around the globe fell by more than half in 2019 according to a report released Wednesday Jan. 1, 2020, by the aviation consultancy To70, revealing the worst crash for the year was an Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX on March 10 that lost 157 lives. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, FILE)
US board says Boeing Max likely hit a bird before 2019 crash

U.S. accident investigators disagree with Ethiopian authorities over the cause of a 2019 Boeing 737 Max crash.

Store owner Jay Behar, 50, left, and store manager Dan Boston, 60, right, work to help unload a truck of recliners at Behar's Furniture on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023. Behar's Furniture on Broadway in Everett is closing up shop after 60 years in business. The family-owned furniture store opened in 1963, when mid-century model styles were all the rage. Second-generation owner, Jay Behar says it's time to move on. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Behar’s Furniture in Everett closing after 60 years

“It’s time to move on.” The small family-owned store opened in 1963 and grew to cover an entire city block.

Katy Woods, a Licensed Coach, Branch Manager, and experienced Banker at Coastal Community Bank.
Coastal Community Bank Offers Classes for Businesses

To support local business owners and their teams, Coastal offers complimentary Money… Continue reading

Innovative Salon Products online fulfillment employees, from left, Stephanie Wallem, Bethany Fulcher, Isela Ramirez and Gretchen House, work to get orders put together on Friday, Jan. 6, 2023, at the company’s facility in Monroe, Washington. The company began including pay, benefits and perks to its job listings over a year ago, well ahead of the new statewide mandate to include a pay range on job postings at companies with over 15 employees. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
New state law requires employers to give pay range in job postings

Washington’s new pay transparency law aims to narrow wage gaps based on race or gender — though some companies may seek loopholes.

Paddywack co-owner Shane Somerville with the 24-hour pet food pantry built by a local Girl Scout troop outside of her store on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2022 in Mill Creek, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
An out-paw-ring of support: Mill Creek pantry feeds pets, day or night

With help from local Girl Scouts, the Mill Creek pet food store Paddywack is meeting the need for pet supplies in a pinch.

Kelly Cameron is the woodworker behind Clinton-based business Turnco Wood Goods. (David Welton)
Whidbey woodworkers turn local lumber into art

In the “Slab Room” at Madrona Supply Co., customers can find hunks of wood native to the south end of Whidbey Island.

Siblings Barbara Reed and Eric Minnig, who, co-own their parent’s old business Ken’s Camera along with their brother Bryan, stand outside the Evergreen Way location Thursday, Dec. 15, 2022, in Everett, Washington. After five decades in business, Ken’s will be closing its last two locations for good at the end of the year. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Print it or lose it: Ken’s Camera closes after decades caught on film

The local legend, processing film photos since 1971, will close its locations in Mount Vernon and Everett at the end of 2022.