Cool Tools Coming Soon

Interface-Related Gadgets May Soon Find Their Way onto Many Plant Floors

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By Jim Montague, Executive editor

No flying cars or telekinesis just yet, but there are many eye-popping, mostly interface-related gadgets that may soon find their way onto many plant floors by taking the increasingly well-worn path as smart phone and tablet PCs.

  • Variety of wearable PCs and related components from no-hands smart phones to tablets computers. Notable devices include VisiWear components from Pixavi (www.pixavi.com).
  • Projected-image keyboards that are being developed by several researchers, such as OmniTouch, which was created by engineers at Carnegie Mellon University (www.cmu.edu), including Chris Harrison (www.chrisharrison.net).
  • Depth-sensing cameras and vision systems that can capture physical movements and use them to actuate other equipment, such as robots. These devices include the well-known Nintendo Wii or Xbox Kinect video game controllers. One example is the "Wiibot" video at www.youtube.com.
  • Augmented reality (AR) via camera on tablet PCs or via eyeglasses. Picks up tags from captured image and displays physical scene, but adds virtual images containing relevant information. For example, it could recognize a valve and display tools and manuals needed to manage or repair it. Notable developers are Aurasma (www.aurasma.com) and Vuzix (www.vuzix.com).
  • Eyeball-tracking webcam on a PC, which allows users to operate a cursor by moving their eyes. Notable developer is Tobii Technology (www.tobii.com). 
  • Speech recognition and interaction, including a variety of solutions from increasingly sophisticated speech-recognition software, such as Dragon, to the more recent Siri technology on the iPhone 4S. Suppliers include Nuance Communications (www.nuance.com) and Apple (www.apple.com).
  • Low-power and flexible HMIs using active-matrix, organic, light-emitting diode (AMOLED) display technology. Mostly used in smart phones at present, but has potential to save power and extend battery life in other settings, too.
  • Cloud computing and other Internet-based data processing services, which can enable everything from remote computing within or between facilities via virtual private networks (VPNs) or over regular Internet protocol (IP). One of the latest is OnLive Desktop (http://desktop.onlive.com), which allows iPad users to use Microsoft Office and web-browsing functions by signing up to have their data processing done by computers often located hundreds of miles away.
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