A technology company envisions the day bank service representatives will sport computers on their heads or wrists - making house calls, or roaming around branches dispensing advice.
Xybernaut Corp., a Fairfax, Va., manufacturer of "wearable" computers that says it is about to start marketing its products to the financial services industry, unveiled its latest at the sixth annual International Conference on Wearable Computers in McLean, Va.
The mobile assistant V, manufactured by International Business Machines Corp. in Armonk, N.Y., has a palm-size color display that functions like a standard desktop personal computer, and can use PC software. It can accept commands by voice, or with a touch screen or small conventional keyboard.
The monitor can be strapped to the user's head or wrist, and a battery pack and processing unit could typically be worn on a belt (though there are vest and backpack alternatives). The wrist-mounted displays can be accompanied by a pop-up keypad.
Xybernaut chief financial officer John Moynahan said his company has yet to sell any V mobile assistants but that he thinks financial services companies would be good customers for them.
"The intent of the V is to be the machine that customers will deploy across their mobile work forces," he said. "Floor traders and customer service representatives would be able to visit someone at home or work, on a wireless basis" and "would be able to access account information and portfolio information. They would be able to take orders on the spot and avoid repetitious paperwork."
The gadget is an upgrade of the mobile assistant IV, which was released in 1999. The new model weighs a pound and is 40% smaller than its predecessor. Version V costs $4,000 to $5,500, depending on its configurations.
Xybernaut sold about 1,800 of the mobile assistant IVs. Buyers included the U.S. military, GE Power Systems, Federal Express Corp., Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp., Lucent Technologies, Niagara Mohawk Holdings Inc., and Hewlett-Packard Co.
The company is targeting corporations performing tasks such as maintenance, repair, and inspection in remote places, "where workers need to access technical information stored on a computer or on corporate networks," Mr. Moynahan said.
Jackie Fenn, a vice president and research fellow at GartnerGroup in Stamford, Conn., took a guarded view of the devices - saying they would probably not penetrate the financial services industry for at least five to 10 years. "The wearables out now are more focused on the industrial audience," she said.
But most of the attraction of such technology for banking, she said, is on the consumer side. Instead of tellers, she said, in the future it may be customers at major banks who will be wearing the devices.
As for financial services employees, Ms. Fenn said, the group that would embrace wearables first is "the traditional road warriors" out in the field. Those with desk jobs at banks would be less likely to find value in them, she said.
Xybernaut, founded in 1990, has raised more than $100 million. Mr. Moynahan said it holds 56 patents, more than any of its competitors do.
Gene Frantz, manager of new business development and the chief technologist at Texas Instruments Inc. in Dallas, said his company supplied Xybernaut with the digital processor signal technology that makes the V the first wearable computer to recognize voice commands.
"It is inevitable that we will be wearing computers," Mr. Frantz said. The trend is well under way, he said, with cell phones and handheld organizers. "We already wear many computers."
Mr. Franz said he thinks the mobile computer will become "like a toothbrush" - something no one really wants to share. "The wearable-computer industry is the next step in making a personal computer a private computer."
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