RealTime IT News

Woz to Wield a Personal Wireless System

Apple Computer co-founder Steve Wozniak is betting that you want to know where your important stuff is.

The CEO and technical visionary of Wheels of Zeus (or wOz -- a play on his nickname) is preparing a new GPS-based device along with a corresponding online network service that uses satellites to pinpoint things like people and pets as well as phones, briefcases and cars.

The Los Gatos, Calif.-based start-up is building digital identification tags called the "wOz Platform." The chipset is about the size of a quarter and would be sold to manufacturers to put in its products. Using the 900MHz spectrum, the company also is looking to deliver a service called "wOzNet" -- a local wireless network that has a range of about 1 to 2 miles. The tags would bounce off of base stations and alert subscribers by phone or e-mail to the location of a specific device.

The company said it is currently testing the devices and network internally. Plans are in the works to publicly unveil the wOz Platform and wOzNet in the first half of 2004 with products rolling out soon after.

"My vision in starting this company was to create technologies that would be helpful to people's everyday lives. We're developing a breakthrough network technology that fills a substantial gap in the wireless market," Wozniak said in a statement. "We now have a team of savvy and experienced business leaders in place to bring our technology to market."

Wozniak left Apple in 1985 and started the commercial venture last January. A champion of wireless technology, he has managed to eke out $6 million in VC money from the likes of Mobius Venture Capital, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Palo Alto Investors.

To help flesh out the details, Woz has hired a crackerjack team of people who understand personal and mobile technology. The company Monday announced its new management team including Pre-Sun acquisition Pixo exec Rich Rifredi in the role of chief operating officer, Palm visionary Frank Canova as vice president of engineering, and PalmSource exec Gina Clark to tackle business development and marketing.

Clark told internetnews.com the ultimate price point depends on what the partner will want to do with the technology. A carrier, for example, might subsidize the service. But the company is targeting the $200 to $250 price range for the network and around $25 for the ID tag.

"We want to make it affordable for people so we're really set on a finite set of partners," Clark said. "We want to crate the market and not the competition. So we've lined up partners that will be complimentary to the service."

Clark also said the network could grow organically or a vendor could tap into it for a low cost. The service would also be augmented as more compatible wireless base stations are installed.

"If you have an item and you have something that is in Southern California, the network will be able to pick it up," Clark said.

Because of that kind of network, the company is toting the combination of the wOz Platform and wOzNet and as bit of a personal hotspot. The main difference being that instead of tapping into high-speed 802.11 infrastructures, wOzNET takes in small bits of information (up to 20K bps) -- just enough for location and status information or instant messaging.

Clark said while embedding the wOz Platform into laptops would be a great idea, the company probably won't court the PC makers until its second wave of product announcements based on the low cost-high volume nature of the laptop market.