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Xybernaut adds Linux to wearable computers

Customer demand, particularly from Europe, has prompted Xybernaut to introduce its own customised version of Linux as an option in its Atigo T line of wearable computers.

Xybernaut, which builds hands-free, wearable computers aimed at business and government users, said customers requested the Linux option because its open-source code can be easily modified for mission-specific applications. The Atigo T line comes standard with the Microsoft Windows XP-embedded operating system.

The Atigo T is a cross between a personal digital assistant and a tablet computer that can be worn on a belt, tucked inside a special pocket or attached with hook and loop tape fasteners or other means, said Michael Binko, vice-president of corporate development at Xybernaut. Prices start at $1,500 (£835) per unit.

Each Atigo T is built to order and can be configured with either Windows XP-embedded or Linux, preloaded with requested applications and produced in any colour customers desire, Binko said.

Users include Hilton Hotels, which provides Atigo computers for personnel who check in hotel guests as they arrive in airports, and FedEx, whose aircraft maintenance technicians use the devices at its shipping hub.

"With Linux deployments growing quickly on an international basis, our interest naturally moved toward offering a Linux OS option for our Atigo product family," said Steven Newman, Xybernaut's president and chief operating officer.

"The Linux option lowers the price of entry to our Atigo T product family and has been a particularly strong area of interest from our European customers because academia and businesses in Europe have been quick to add Linux to their enterprise IT architectures."

Richard Dean, an analyst at IDC, said that while wearable computers have been available for several years, they have "clearly not hit the mainstream".

Instead, the devices appear to have caught on among users who need them for logistics-related uses, including shipping companies and government agencies, Dean said.

The next round of users will likely include emergency first-responders such as law enforcement and firefighting personnel. "Those are the kinds of things that will be important down the road," Dean said.

Xybernaut is "doing some interesting things in this market", he said, but the US market for this technology is still relatively small at about $100m a year.

"Wearable computing is here and I think it is here to stay," Dean said. "It is a solution that affords the person wearing the computer to have hands-free activity."

All Atigo products are configured with built-in IEEE 802.11b WLan wireless networking support through standard PC card or compact Flash slots.

The Atigo T runs with a 1GHz Transmeta Crusoe TM5800 Processor and includes 256MBytes of SDRam memory and Flash Memory of up to 1GBytes, internal rechargeable Lithium-ion batteries, USB ports, FireWire connectors and an 8.4in touch-screen display.

A standard or soft keyboard can be plugged into the devices, as can other optional accessories. 

Todd Weiss writes for Computerworld


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