From: Linda (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: Sun Oct 15 2000 - 21:51:10 PDT
[I dunno. Using one of these just doesn't seem quite as cool as one of
those new RIM pagers...
October 10, 2000, 6:44 PM PDT
Finger Phones: An Earful of an Invention
NTT DoCoMo has created a wristband phone that lets people hear incoming
calls by sticking a finger in their ear.
By Michele M. Yamada
TOKYO – Common sense dictates that you shouldn't stick anything in your
ear, not even your finger – unless you want to make a phone call with
the latest innovation from a Japanese telecom researcher.
Masaaki Fukumoto, a 36-year-old senior research engineer at NTT
DoCoMo's Media Computing Lab, got the idea during a conference on
wearable computers in 1997. The device he invented soon after is
a wearable wireless phone that consists only of a wristband. The band
houses a tiny microphone, plus a device that converts audio signals
into vibrations. To hear incoming calls, the wearer puts a finger in
one ear. The caller's voice is converted to vibrations, which travel
through the hand, the finger and into the ear canal. The wearer talks
back via the wristband's microphone.
That's not the only sleight of hand necessary. To answer the phone,
called Whisper because incoming calls cause the wristband to vibrate,
the wearer taps their thumb and index finger together. No buttons to
press, no keypad to control. Fukumoto says users can send multiple
commands to the wristband by tapping their fingers in various rhythms.
Fukumoto also plans to add voice recognition to the system for vocal
Demos of the prototype work well, but there are obstacles to Whisper
ever becoming a product. "In Japan or the U.S., people are not willing
to wear wearable devices," Fukumoto says. "The only gadget that people
allow themselves to wear today is a wristwatch."
He hopes that Whisper would come to market by 2005. Meanwhile, NTT
DoCoMo continues to fund the project, Fukumoto said. He's gotten at
least "several hundred thousand dollars" but won't be more specific.
"Sooner or later, wireless phones will look more like earplugs, and
people will wear them," Fukumoto says. "We just have to establish a
culture that registers an idea with people that wearing a device is a
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