Wearable computers keeping pace with changing cleanroom practices


FAIRFAX, Va.-With an origin in military applications, mobile wearable computers devoid of fans and moving parts are increasingly being incorporated into cleanroom garments. Although computers have been worn for the past eight years, changes in contamination control technology and the changing work force are resulting in a growing interest in wearable garments.

As with much of the economy, fewer cleanroom workers are being asked to do more, necessitating more efficient access to a burgeoning amount of data. Xybernaut Corp.’s ( PC-equivalent garment line is enabling a hands-free environment, while delivering critical data to the worker.

Xybernaut’s MA V and Atigo lines of wearable computers deliver enterprise-LAN, Intranet, and voice navigation to the cleanroom worker, on Windows and Linux platforms. The hands-free systems include a body-worn, voice-activated, high-powered processor and SVGA display, microphone, and eyepiece-essentially, the capabilities of a high-speed desktop computer.

Not only are manuals, instructions, and checklists available to the cleanroom worker to enable more efficient performance, but the wearable computers also provide a two-way flow of critical data between worker and network. As an employee performs critical tasks, information can be transferred back to the corporate network in real time, eliminating the steps of manually recording and rekeying.

According to Michael Binko, Xybernaut vice president of corporate development, “The computers are not just for looking at instructions, but also for access to other critical information the enterprise might have, such as the maintenance history of a device, or MPEG video of how to perform a certain complex task-without leaving the [cleanroom] environment.”

Binko predicts increased battery life and interface factors will be the primary areas of continued development for wearable garments. In particular, he says substantial research is being done in the area of navigation by eye movement and speech.

“We’re creating new ways of interfacing with applications or software, and making our device work in the cleanroom environment as the intelligent hub for information,” Binko says. -CM