Walk along the halls of the Ceatec electronics show here in Japan and you're likely to see all manner of gadgets and gizmos, but few sights might startle you more than Ichiro Kasai.
Kasai, a manager at Konica Minolta's frontier business incubation department, is wearing a futuristic headset that looks like something you might find in a science-fiction movie. It's actually the latest prototype of his wearable communicator that can send and receive video and audio over a Wi-Fi network. The device is an update to a prototype model that's been shown at Ceatec under glass for the past couple of years.
The panel that sits in front of Kasai's right eye is a see-through display. It projects a video image being transmitted to the device to a window in his field of vision. Just above this is a camera that sends video images of whatever he is looking at. A mic and earphone add two-way audio communications.
Communications with the device take place via a box that Kasai is carrying in his jacket pocket. It works over a wireless LAN 802.11a/b/g network so communications are possible over a range of several tens of meters using the system. Across the network the gadget uses SIP (session initiation protocol) for the video and audio, which is encoded using the MPEG4 and G.711 codecs, respectively.
The company envisages the device might be used for some remote coaching applications where instructors can send video or image contents to the display in front of a student's eye while the instructor is able to watch what he or she is looking at. For example, an engineering student could be sent a diagram of how to dismantle a machine part and the instructor could then check it was being done correctly.
Konica Minolta has already been working on the device for seven years, but the development continues. Kasai said his team is working on making the see-through display larger and giving it a wider viewing angle. There's no word on when it might become a commercial product.