In June 2004, I blogged about a company I'd visited in California, Vocera. It was early days for them back then but I gather they've now shipped over 100,000 units. I pitched the idea of using them to a few places - I was very impressed by the product - figuring that UK hospitals would seem them in action and reach for their checkbooks. It wasn't so and I haven't seen them in the UK - although their website notes that a hospital in Belfast is using them.
Today, loitering by the wine bar at Whole Foods Market, I saw that many of the staff there have a Vocera "badge" dangling round their neck. I talked to one of the guys about it. He told me that they loved them - they could call anyone with a single button push and voice recognition, find the nearest, say, "wine expert" that could help them or check the location of a fellow member of staff. You see this stuff working and you think "wow!"
It's a lot like when I first saw the staff in Wagamama using ipaqs with wireless cards to take orders - the right order straight to the kitchen and delivered back to you a few minutes later. No bits of paper, no scribbles on notebooks, no misunderstandings.
Having spent a little too much time in hospitals recently, I see a big hole waiting to be filled by wireless technology. I even wonder if police radios could take advantage of the same technology - with private wireless networks put in tube stations so that they could maintain contact and still locate each other, avoiding the need for complicated proprietary technology that is incompatible between forces and doesn't work underground. If they needed to set up an operations centre, they could just put a wireless node in the middle of where they were and get working. When WiMax shows up properly, it will be even easier to cover a wider area.
For now, if you want to talk to Vocera about their stuff, you'll need to get in touch with BT or IBM.