Say what you will about the nerd quotient of Google’s Project Glass, but their thin, frameless glasses look dead stylish next to the Motorola HC1, the company’s first head-mounted computer. The copiously curvy gray plastic may look straight out of the StarTAC era, but Motorola calls their new headset “game-changing.”
To be fair, Motorola doesn’t expect you to wear it as any old consumer. The HC1 was created by Motorola Solutions, the B2B company, not Motorola Mobility, who you know for making Droids. (The two companies spun off a while back.) They expect you to wear the HC1 as an architect or foreman; it’s built to be a durable, hands-free device for enterprise customers who’d otherwise be balancing a rugged laptop on the same table with a blowtorch.
The HC1 is essentially a Windows CE 6.0 computer powered by smartphone processors that’s been retrofitted for hands-free operation. Its interface is every bit as ugly as you’d expect a Windows CE system to be. Files are laid out on a stale desktop grid, displayed on a tiny, 15-inch-simulated screen just below your line of sight. (The device’s most important feature, considering its users, may be that it doesn’t obstruct sight or hearing.)
Instead of a touchscreen, the HC1 recognizes voice commands and head gestures to navigate the desktop. So viewing an image is a particularly interesting feat: You can tilt and pan your head to study the nuances of a blueprint, ostensibly extending your screen infinitely. The onboard camera could, theoretically, pipe your own view to this screen, adding additional data to the image for an augmented reality overlay. But this sort of application seems like something Motorola is crowdsourcing via API–or at least having partner companies announce in the weeks to come.
For the time being, Motorola seems most excited for users to connect the HC1 to a few supported Motorola (Solutions) phones and devices in order to reach the cloud. From there, on-site workers could do anything from download emails to share first-person video clips with collaborators overseas. Basically, the cloud transforms the HC1 from a computer you can wear to a cellphone you can wear.
I asked Motorola if they saw a future with Google’s Android OS. No doubt, HC1 software development would see a huge boon by integrating one of the most popular mobile platforms in existence. The most a spokesperson would say is, “we will continue to listen to customer feedback and market demands for any future iterations of the HC1.”
So the HC1 is hideous. If Google is channeling Geordi with Glass, then Motorola has gone Borg. But even though very few of us will (and would ever) sport an HC1 around town, it’s the kind of product that could allow the enterprise level (big business) to serve as a deep-pocketed case study, tackling the human factors issues behind a computer you wear all day while the industry hones their augmented reality craft for the mass market.