- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

Fred's tech prediction for today: This guy Spitzer is right. Consequently teen-agers will walk around bumping into things. And somebody will get rich.
For a good many years various folk, chiefly the military, have been using head-mounted video displays. These are gadgets that hang down in front of your eyes, or even more strangely one eye, and let you see pictures or information on little screens.
If you are a technician doing something with both hands, yet you need to read a manual or check the output of, say, an oscilloscope, it's a reasonable idea. A military helicopter pilot flying at night might want to have a pale green night-vision device view of the world through one eye, and still see normally through the other. Fine.
For consumers, though, head-mounted displays aren't so hot quite yet. Thing is, they're big and make you look like a mutant cyborg made with leftover parts. No good. Nobody is going to lug around a set of weird goggles.
Yet it's not hard to see a market for the basic idea. If people could sit on an airplane and watch the latest explosions-and-car-chase movie without lugging around a laptop, it would be, as we say, way cool. Youths would buy the things by the gross to watch music videos while listening to the portable CD players they currently use to destroy their hearing.
If they were cheap and didn't look too funny.
So a fellow named Mark Spitzer, at MicroOptics(.com), decided that he would figure out how to fit tiny optical displays into the frames of glasses.
Further, he decided to make them inconspicuous enough that the wearer would not look as if he had the inside of a radio attached to his head. On Web sites there is talk of making them stylish.
Now, sez me, if you want people to buy them, they have to be small enough to wear all the time. Second, they have to wireless, because only the geek of all geeks would put up with plugging awkward wires into his head to look at, well, anything.
Both of these seem to be within reach.
MicroOptics may well do both. Since the company already makes all manner of head-mounted displays for industrial use, the odds are that they know somewhat of the technology. And they're looking at Christmas 2003.
Sensible people might ask whether the idea isn't, well, just more techy non-starter dreaming, like video telephones. I'll guess not. People once said that Palm Pilots would never fly too geeky and then said the same about e-mail on Palm Pilots. I wish I'd bought stock.
Further, a genuinely user-friendly display is not so much a product as a part of products that will follow its introduction like lawyers behind a grieving widow. First will come the DVD player that fits in your jacket pocket. Next, a television receiver. Technically, that's just a minor rewiring of today's micro-TV sets. If enough people buy them, it may give broadcast TV its first advantage ever over cable.
An idea that has been around in geek-space for a long time is the wearable computer. The thought sounds horrible, but it isn't really.
Most of us these days use computers extensively. Most of us also don't want to lug a laptop around. The space actually needed for a whole lot of computing power diminishes like judgment in adolescence. If you look at the memory and speed in the pricier handhelds, you'll see what I mean.
Now, if you could carry useful computing power in a size that would fit comfortably in a coat pocket you might like it. I promise we will soon see real computers in pocket one way or another.
Tell you what. If you think drivers talking on cell phones are bad, wait until they're watching Oprah.

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