Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and Robert Bosch Corporation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in collaboration with scientists at Robert Bosch GmbH in Germany, are to unveil "Speech-Controlled Wearable Computers for Automotive Shop Workers" at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) 2001 World Congress in Detroit next March.

The team is developing a small, speech-controlled mobile computer that automotive technicians can wear while inspecting vehicles and making repairs.

Today, vehicle inspection and maintenance are often conducted using time-consuming paper forms. The service technician collects data on paper and carries it on a clipboard throughout the shop. When the work is completed, the technician often must enter the data into a computer for further processing.

"Wearable computers offer great advantages for workers in many industries, including automotive," says Christian Burgy, Carnegie Mellon University. "These devices eliminate paper-based data collection, saving workers time and helping to increase the quality of the job performed."

For example, instead of carrying manuals or approaching a PC to look up information or order parts, a technician using the wearable computer can access inspection data and control measurement devices -- all without taking his hands off the vehicle. He may also communicate with other technicians on the floor and in the main office.

To develop the prototype device, researchers interviewed automotive technicians to evaluate worker needs. "We did not want to overwhelm them with technology too complicated to use," says Markus Klausner, Robert Bosch Corporation. "The idea is to simplify their jobs. We believe that these devices have great potential in many industries and for many applications."

To date, several prototypes have been developed based on user feedback, and the researchers are continuing to perfect the hardware and software for optimal functionality.