We’ve all seen the handhelds used by gas-meter readers and FedEx delivery people; and although these are undoubtedly practical and productive applications, they lack a certain … je ne sais quoi. To find exhilarating mobile applications that make the leap from practicality to panache was no easy task … but my search was rewarded with a handful of groundbreaking gadgets that are ripping open the mobile envelope.
Finding Your Way Around the Block
Market: Information technology
Application: Welcome to New Zealand
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• Hardware: Microsoft Pocket PC, Microsoft SQL Server CE
• Software: Built in C#, using .NET Compact Framework, SOAP
• Company: GeoVector, One Market St., Spear Tower, 36th Flr., San Francisco, CA 94105, (415) 293-8162, www.geovector.com
Building a Better House
Market: Home construction
In an industry infamous for its schedule changes, punctuated with countless workarounds and multiple recalculations, AirToolz has found a comfy niche. With AirWavz, the company’s project management tool, home construction contractors can instantaneously update and communicate construction schedule changes directly from the jobsite with a wireless handheld device running a standard Web browser. Once a schedule change is entered, AirWavz automatically calculates its impact on other contractors, notifies them of changes via cell phone, e-mail or fax, and adjusts the master schedule in a real-time update of all work schedules, inventories and back-end systems. Great ROI.
• Hardware: Palm OS devices, Compaq iPAQ or RIM’s BlackBerry running
• Software: Java to J2EE standards using IBM’s DB2 database and IBM WebSphere Application Server software
• Company: AirToolz Software, 7000 E. Shea Blvd., Ste. 1310, Scottsdale, AZ 85254, (408) 607-0019, www.airtoolz.com
Save Our Cetaceans
Application: CETUS II
Putting the dolphins previously used for mine detection on permanent vacation, Perry Technologies has developed Cetus II, an intelligent underwater surveillance robot using QNXs RTOS (Real Time Operating System) to run its navigation systems and store underwater images remotely. Perry has also developed autonomous undersea robots to be used for oil and gas exploration, harbor surveillance, air crash recovery and exploration of undersea mines and other sea hazards.
• Hardware: PC104 computers
• Software: Developed in Windows, then testing on the same computers running QNX RTOS with POSIX (IEEE standard) compliance, networking and rich toolset
• Company: Lockheed Martin/Perry Technologies, 100 East 17th St., Riviera Beach, FL 33404, (561) 842-5261, www.perrytech.com
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In 2001, VivoMetrics bedecked first-time Indianapolis 500 race-car driver, Jon Herb, with a secret weapon: Beneath his standard protective suit and helmet, Herb sported a lightweight (8 oz.) prototype top that could someday save lives. The LifeShirt is embedded with a full array of medical sensors attached to proprietary hardware connected to a Handspring Visor springboard slot, capturing “every breath, every heartbeat and position of the body.” Rather than just a snapshot or “moment of data frozen in time,” the LifeShirt provides continuous data—a “movie of health” that creates a comprehensive view of physiologic function. More than 30 parameters of cardiopulmonary data are correlated with other physiological factors like posture and activity level. Optional devices measure blood pressure and oxygen saturation.
• Hardware: Handspring Visor, Palm OS; wireless prototype outputs data
via a serial port transmitted to PC via wireless modem
• Software: Palm OS
• Company: VivoMetrics, 121 N. Fir St., Ste. E, Ventura, CA 93001, (805) 667-2225, www.vivometrics.com
Toss the Chalk
Application: Collaborative Engineering
When mobile design and collaboration support is what you need, PDAs or cell phones just won’t cut it. Although professors’ standard use of computers includes access to lecture notes and supplemental information online, these educational aids typically don’t support students in their team projects, so MIT’s engineering students and professors turned to the Tablet PC to facilitate the early collaborative design process for the International Design Competition, a.k.a. RoboCon. Using Acer TravelMate 100 Tablet PCs running Windows XP Tablet PC Edition, the students found that sketching designs, shapes and equations collaboratively was a snap. MIT professors are convinced that the Tablet will replace the laptop in the classroom.
• Hardware: Acer TravelMate 100 Tablet PC
• Software: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition
• Company: Acer America, 2641 Orchard Pkwy., San Jose, CA 95134, www.acer.com
Take Two and Call Me in the Morning
Market: Health care
Sales-force automation is nothing new, but it becomes a more vital field with time and competitive pressure. In Peru, for example, drugstores place simultaneous orders with different pharmaceutical wholesalers, and the first responder nabs the sale. To maintain a secure niche in this tough market, Lima-based Quimica Suiza created QSMOVIL, a sales automation tool. The company’s mobile sales force can now access up-to-date product and customer information by synchronizing their PDAs with the company’s host via a wireless modem, select products from a 7,000-SKU database, and submit orders directly from the field, with a whopping 38 percent reduction in time-to-order. The result? 100 percent payback in 10 months (in paper savings alone), double-digit increase in revenue and profit, decreased cost of sales, reduction in order-entry errors and a 15 percent increase in sales force productivity. This application is easy to swallow.
• Hardware: PDAs with modems
• Software: Java to J2EE standards using IBM’s DB2 database and IBM WebSphere Application Server software and IBM Mobile Connect
• Company: Quimica Suiza, P.O. Box 3919, Lima 100, Peru, www.quimicasuiza.com
A Sale in Hand ...
Although this application may not yet resonate with the U.S. market, Shohachi Sawamoto, director of Shenshukai, a Japanese retailer of upscale clothing and household items, says that due to low PC penetration and the prohibitive cost of dial-up service, 30 million Japanese—a quarter of the population—connect to the Internet at extremely low cost using their mobile phones. Responding to that market, in 2000, Shenshukai’s management opened their traditional mail-order and Web-based sales (bellne.com) to mobile phones, allowing i-mode (Web-enabled) subscribers to order any product from their catalog, order new catalogs at no cost, receive special offers on items not sold in their printed catalog, and be privy to exclusive sales. Sawamoto says that since Shenshukai went live, they’ve gained about 500,000 new members per year, with i-mode customers purchasing, on the average, more expensive items. Revenues have increased by 65 percent in 2002, and Shenshukai anticipates continued aggressive growth. Neat app—it just leaps over the PC/Internet model.
• Hardware: Web-enabled cell phones
• Software: Java to J2EE standards using IBM’s DB2 for AIX database and IBM WebSphere Application Server software
• Company: Senshukai Company Ltd., 4-31 Doshin 1-Chome, Kita-ku, Osaka 530-0035, Japan, http://www.bellne.com
On the Road
Application: Cobra Connex
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Auto heists are a rewarding business according to Cobra Automotive Technologies, an international provider of telematic electronic security solutions to vehicle manufacturers. Cobra estimates that organized car theft nets a profit of nearly $8 billion per year in the U.S. alone, and $11 billion in Europe, where 40 percent more cars are stolen. In conjunction with French GIA specialists, Webraska, Cobra’s rugged anti- and after-theft auto-tracking technology was strikingly demonstrated at the 25th Annual Paris-Dakar rally, when a police assistance vehicle shadowed motorcycle competitor Gerard Barbezant throughout the entire 5,100-mile route. Developed and managed by Cobra, the application employs Webraska’s advanced GIS services, Seimens’ Mobile GSM modules and TeleAtlas for the digital map data. Cobra Connex module wireless GPS boxes were installed on the motorcycle and the truck. GPS data was collected and sent back to Webraska’s server-based platform.
• Hardware: Connex wireless GPS devices
• Software: Webraska’s SmartZone Geospatial Platform
• Company: Webraska, 12900 Saratoga Ave., Saratoga, CA 95070, (408) 850-8600, www.webraska.com, Cobra Automotive Technologies, Varese, Italy, www.cobra.it