Be the Borg?

As anyone with half a brain can see, I'm a total novice here, I've been keeping an eye on Steve Mann's work for a couple of years, but recently I've come to the conclusion that I want to build my OWN wearable. Luckily for me, procrastination was a good thing in this case, as the hardware available now makes it more possible than in the past...

Rambles Wish List Remus Romulus The Real World Roma Interim Alternative Links

Current NON-Mobile base for activities, tidy, huh? >>>

From what I've seen so far, it looks like there are a few components which are far enough ahead in their fields to be SERIOUSLY worth a look, things such as;

The Twiddler2 chording keyer

In Displays, the one that's caught my eye is the MicroOptical Invisible Monitor, now if they'd just release a 640 x 480 (or better yet, 800 x 600) version...;^) but I'd take the 320 x 240 if they'd just put them on the market, where are they???

Seriously though, I think the Invisible Monitor COULD be the one thing which takes Wearable Computers out of "Geekville" and Technical applications, and into the mainstream consumer and business fields. It takes a technical work requirement for constant information feed, OR a perchant for techno toys at the expense of social acceptance (the "BorgBoy" audition line starts to my right) to wear the current HMD hardware (sunglasses hacks excepted, but inside & at night, the masquerade is flawed even then). The Invisible Monitor, on the other hand, opens the door to HMD functionality WITHOUT the Geek/Borg stigma, so that it could be used in an ordinary business or social context. I spend 50 hours a week in a suit and tie, carrying a phone. I'm rarely more than 50M away from my Notebook at work OR at home during the week (or on weekends, for that matter). While I'd be quite prepared to carry a Wearable, and use a HMD, in today's business environment that wouldn't be accepted. If the HMD was the Invisible Monitor, however, I could get away with it, and I'm expecting be seeing a LOT more Wearables around within a few months of their release on the market. Oh well, we'll see. One thing's for sure though, we're DEFINATELY living in interesting times.

For traditional HMDs with a monochome display, the M1 still seems to be the standard, reasonably priced, reportedly decent resolution, VGA connectivity without the need for a converter, sounds good.

Cameras, doesn't REALLY seem to be anything small enough to be unobtrusive, but decent quality, does there? Sol Cognosenti's idea of a "real time" Wallpaper from the camera feed sounds great to me, love to try it, but does anyone know of a camera that'd make the idea work?.

In CPUs, there seems to be quite a bit of dissention out there, the Transmeta Crusoe LOOKS good, but I suppose it'll be a "wait and see" thing, if it lives up to the claims, seems like the way to go.

For Storage, in a small device, it seems to me that the choice would have to be either IBM's 1 GB Microdrive (that's an incredible unit for its size), or one of the PCMCIA harddrives. For a machine that's a bit bigger, IBM's 48 GB Travelstar, with shock protection, looks pretty good too.

Am I missing something, or is it primarily economics which is preventing most people from using PCMCIA cards for their primary I/O hardware? Looking at what's available, with the exception of an on-board 10/100 Ethernet controller and USB/Firewire controller, looks to me like a good option would be to add one or two PCMCIA slots, and use the available cards for GSM/Phone, Wireless LAN, or whatever, is this a stupid idea?

OK, to TOTALLY discredit any ideas that people may have had that I might be sane;

The crazy idea I have is to build a minimalist unit within a Twiddler2 (or similar) case, with this unit linked to another unit (big enough to fit a DVD drive and Laptop batteries) by a USB 2.0 cable, so that it could draw power from the bigger unit, but have the ability to run on internal battery power for a time away from the main unit.

As we're talking wish lists here, what I'd love to build would be;

"Head" Unit (Remus)

Case: Modified Twiddler2 Chord Keyboard

CPU: Transmeta Crusoe TM3200

Motherboard: Custom board, similar in size to the Tiqit Matchbox PC design

Memory: 64 - 128 MB

Storage: 1 GB IBM Microdrive

I/O: 2 x USB 2.0 ports (one wired internally for keyboard/"mouse")

Keyboard/Mouse: Twiddler2, directly wired internally

Video Controller: On-board SVGA controller, 2 MB

Video: MicroOptical Invisible Monitor

Audio: Basic audio with single earphone and simple microphone

Video Capture: Micro camera on glasses.

Expansion: 2 x PCMCIA/CF Type II slots (one wired internally for Microdrive)

Battery: Lithium Polymer Mobile battery

Battery Backup: Fixed capacitor

Network/Link: USB 2 link to "Base" unit for data & power

O/S: Linux

Obviously, I have no idea how I'd get this to work, even with the resources of the head of computing for the Electrical Engineering Faculty of one of our biggest Universities over here (Australia) available to help out, but...

As the Keyboard and Mouse would be connected via USB, and there will be no IDE or Floppy drives in the machine, I'm hoping that it would be possible to leave the general serial and IDE/Floppy chipsets off the board altogether, especially as audio and video capture facilities would be "essential" for this utopian device. ;^)

Obviously, the most ridiculous requirement would be the video capture, as the board for this would be close in size to the rest of the boards, however, in the "ideal" scenario where this would be used, this functionality would have a significant benefit, so my 'Lec' Eng' friends will just HAVE to find a way to fit it onto the boards. ;^)

"Base" (Belt) Unit (Romulus)

Case: Custom (but of course) case with DVD drive at top, two Laptop batteries in the base, and PCMCIA/CF slots, connectors etc in the sides (sorta plannin' on something like a thick Diskman, you know?)

CPU: Transmeta Crusoe TM5400

Motherboard: PC104 or 3.5" - 5.25" drive format board

Memory: 512 MB - 1 GB

Storage: 48 GB IBM Travelstar


I/O: 2 x USB 2.0 ports

NIC: 10/100 Ethernet On-board

Modem: 56K Modem On-board

GPS: 12 Channel GPS On-board

Keyboard/Mouse: 2 x PS/2 ports in case

Video Controller: On-board SVGA controller, 2-4 MB

Video: VGA port in case

Audio: Stereo sound chip set, "headset" port in case

Expansion: 2 x PCMCIA/CF Type II slots

Battery: 2 x Lithium Polymer Laptop batteries

Ext Power: Port in case for suitable Laptop power supply.

Battery Backup: Fixed capacitor

Network/Link: USB 2 link to "Head" unit for data & power feed

O/S: Linux

The second USB 2.0 Port on the "Base" machine, is for use with printers, scanners, floppy drives and other peripherals.

Common usage would be for control of the "Base" unit to be exclusively from the "Head" unit, which has the Keyboard, "mouse" and display elements of the computing environment. As a backup for "desk" environments, however, the "Base" unit will be fitted with standard PS/2 Keyboard and Mouse ports, plus a standard VGA port for a display.

Primary intended purpose for PCMCIA slots is Network and Communications devices. This allows flexibility to configure Wireless LAN, Broadband RF, GSM/Phone, or whatever, depending on the operating environment. Desk based environments are catered for by the on-board 10/100 Ethernet and 56K Modem within the "Base" machine. Wireless LAN and/or Broadband RF could be used as either a "Base" only link back to another network or machine, OR, as a link between the "Base" unit and the "Head" unit (in this scenario, the "Base" unit could be desk mounted, on mains power, with physical Ethernet and/or Landline Phone and/or GSM/Phone connections, using the Wireless LAN or RF cards to communicate with the "Head" unit).

Operation time for the "Head" unit with a mobile phone battery powering the processing unit, video display and wireless network interface (either) would obviously be limited. Ability to exchange batteries would be required, option to "upsize" batteries for longer periods away from the "Base" unit's USB based power feed would be a desirable option.

Proposed O/S configuration would be a Beowulf cluster, more to establish the two units as a single logical entity, and facilitate data and resource sharing, than to utilise the traditional usage of the Beowulf clusters, to harness the processing "grunt" available through parallel processing. ( The theoretical 480 Megabit transfer rate of USB 2.0, and the fact that the cluster would link 400 Mhz & 700 Mhz processors with 1.125 GB of combined memory COULD, however, theoretically result in quite significant processing "grunt", though. )

Unfortunately, I live in the WRONG OZ, so I'm afraid that Scarecrow isn't likely to be able to build the wearable cluster listed above, or not yet, anyway.

As noted above, going by reports from the people who seem to know what they're talking about, it would appear that going with solid components, like the Twiddler2 keyer, M1 HMD etc, and trying for a 3.5" drive format computer unit, rather than something "small and sophisticated" is the smart thing to do (first time up, at least).

What I lack in soldering and "proper" electronics skills, I can easily get a couple of experienced and competent friends to help me with (though I want to do as much as I can, won't learn otherwise).

So, what I'm hoping to try is something along the lines of.....

"Real World" Unit (Roma)

Case: Either re-used old External drive/switch cases, modified SUN IPC case, or Tupperware or similar plastic case

CPU: Pentium 90-200

Motherboard: PC104 or 3.5"-5.25" drive format board

Memory: 64-128 MB

Storage: 6-10 GB IDE

I/O: 1 x Serial, 1-2 x USB 1, 1 x PS/2 mouse & 1 x PS/2 Keyboard ports

NIC: 10/100 Ethernet On-board

Alt NIC: WaveLan 900 Mhz 2 Mbit PCMCIA Wireless Ethernet Cards

Keyboard/Mouse: HandyKey Twiddler2

Video Controller: On-board VGA controller, 1 MB

Video: Liquid Vision M1

Audio: Stereo sound chip set, "headset" port in case

Expansion: 2 x PCMCIA Type II slots

Battery: ???? Laptop batteries

Ext Power: Port in case for Laptop power supply.

Battery Backup: Fixed capacitor

O/S: Linux

Interim Alternative

Hacked old 486DX2/50 laptop. 200 MB Disk. 24 MB Memory, VGA, no sound, no USB, no CD-ROM (nor the ability to connect one) 3.5" diskette, 1 x serial (16450 I'd say), 2 x Type II PCMCIA slots, a PCMCIA Ethernet card for Network. It'll be slow & shitty, but it'll let me work on the stripped down versions of Linux, HMD, keyers like the Twiddler, and Wireless Networking (now that I've picked up the pair of 2 MBit Wavelan 900 Mhz PCMCIA cards from Don Papp, thanks Don), to give me a stepping stone to a "real" wearable environment. (If I can convince my friend to toss the DX3/75, 32 MB Memory version with a 500 MB disk that he's keeping for emergencies (with a dodgie keyboard, yet), it might be closer to something usable (maybe).) I should be able to cannibalise either (or both) of these Laptops for parts to use in the "Real" Wearable, brings it that much closer.

Hardware Links

MicroOptical Corporation
Makers of the "Invisible Monitor", an unobtrusive glasses mounted HMD.
HandyKey Corporation
Makers of the Twiddler2 Chord Keyer.
The M1 HMD, at its makers' site.
Tiqit Computers
The commercial spinoff marketing the Matchbox PC.
Makers of the CardPC, among other boards and computers

Software Links
Embedded Linux forum.
General Linux forum, and source for code etc.

Forum and source for a powerful "floppy" Linux distribution.

Other Wearable Links

The Extreme Computing Website
Wearable Central
Wearable Technology
The MIT Wearable Computing Web Page
Steve Mann's site
Doug Sutherland's Jacketized Computing
AE Innovations/Midnight Engineering

If there's something you'd like to ask or tell me, or you'd just like to say hello, please send me an email. My address is;

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