Picard to Enterprise: 802.11b Badges Carry Voice

Cell phones still look too much like the communicators of the original Star Trek, but a newly announced product might be using 802.11b networks to take wireless voice communications to the Next Generation.

Vocera Communications of Cupertino, CA, is developing a system for instant voice communications via Wi-Fi. Using voice activation at the touch of a button, on-site mobile users of the Vocera Communications Badge will talk directly with individuals or groups connected to the network.

“Our emphasis from the beginning was to make it simple and easy for everyone to operate,” says Rob Darrow, Vocera’s Director of Product Management.

Voice calls from the Badge can link into the company PBX for instantly placing calls through the telephone network.

The badge — it’s shaped more like a small stapler than a badge — is 4 inches long and weighs 1.6 ounces with the standard rechargeable Lithium Ion battery. In addition to a unidirectional microphone and speaker, it features an LCD readout on the back to display text message or the ID of a voice caller. There’s one button for making a call and another for putting callers on hold (it doubles as a Do Not Disturb). It has a 2.5 mm headset jack so you can keep calls to yourself.

“What we’re trying to do is make the device lightweight so you can wear it,” says Darrow. “We made several different attachment mechanisms so you can wear it around your neck with a lanyard or wear it on your pocket with a clip. We’ve even got a universal clip that will go on anything, like an ID badge. You want to put it on and just forget about it, so you can do all your interactions hands free.” The separate attachment kit is optional.

The system will require installation of Vocera Server Software on a local Windows 2000 server within the building or campus. The browser-configurable server software consists of manager utilities for calls, users, and connections. It uses the Nuance 8.0 speech recognition software to take user commands over the badge.

The Vocera Communications System will be targeted at in-building environments such as medical facilities, retail stores, and warehouses. It is not scheduled for release until the fall of 2002, with no pricing set as yet.

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