Hand-held computers help servers fill ordersTechnology...


November 02, 1992|By Leslie Cauley

Hand-held computers help servers fill orders

Technology goes poolside.

Micros Systems Inc. of Beltsville has built a hand-held computer that allows waiters and waitresses to take drink and food orders from poolside, the beach and other places where thirsty patrons hang out.

The idea, says Dan Interlandi, product manager at Micros, is to cut the time it takes servers to fill orders. That can take a while at some resorts, where bars and kitchens may be a good hike from customers.

Micros' palm-sized computers are an offshoot of an existing system designed to expedite orders. That system, known as the Micros 4700, puts a computer at a central site, typically by the cash register, where all servers can punch in orders.

Hand-held units, manufactured by Granite Communications Inc. of Amherst, N.H., use touch-screen technology. That means servers don't have to be computer-literate. All they have to do is locate menu items on the screen's grid. Electronic prompts remind servers to ask how food should be prepared (You want that T-bone rare? Medium? Well done?)

Special orders are typed in separately.

Servers touch "send" on the palm-sized units to submit orders. Within seconds, orders are printed out in bars and kitchens equipped with companion equipment.

Poolside ordering isn't cheap. Each hand-held unit costs about $1,600, putting them beyond the reach of all but the luxury hotels and resorts. Mr. Interlandi says that should change as the cost of technology drops.

Micros has several lookers -- but still no buyers -- for its hand-helds, which will hit the market in mid-November.

'Video Dialtone Day' offers mix of services

Last Wednesday was "Video Dialtone Day" at the Federal Communications Commission, the commission's nod to "National Consumer's Week." The day-long exhibit was billed as a chance for the public to get a peek at "video dialtone," the FCC's tag to describe the idea of marrying the telephone and the television.

fTC Problem is, video dialtone doesn't exist today outside the lab. And the industry can't seem to agree on what the term means -- or how services might be packaged and delivered to consumers a low cost.

Video Dialtone Day did little to clear up the confusion.

Bell Atlantic Corp., parent of Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., was on hand to show off its Asynchronous Digital Subscriber Loop (ADSL) system, which will allow the company to transmit VCR-quality pictures over a regular telephone line.

Bell Atlantic says ADSL technology will make it easy to provide "video-on-demand" services to customers in the near future. Video-on-demand is the idea of letting consumers see what they want to see -- movies, sporting events or concerts -- when they want to see it.

Bell Atlantic plans to test such a service next summer in Northern Virginia using 400 employees as customers. If that trial goes well, Bell Atlantic plans to enter the mass market for video-on-demand type services in 1994.

There are no immediate plans to offer those services in Baltimore. But presumably the city will be included if Bell Atlantic rolls out the services regionwide.

American Telephone & Telegraph Co.'s exhibit, on the other hand, was very much of the here-and-now variety.

The company trotted out its new videophone, which allows users to see each other while they talk. MCI, which wasn't in attendance, has a similar phone.

The two phones, unfortunately, aren't compatible. Which means that two customers -- one with an MCI phone, the other with an AT&T phone -- couldn't talk or see each other.

Apple system a hit at EDUCOM '92

One of the biggest hits last week at EDUCOM '92, an annual meeting on information technology in higher education, wasn't on the exhibition floor but in the halls.

"Apple Messaging & News Centers," set up by Apple Computer, allowed show-goers at the Baltimore Convention Center to send electronic mail messages to other attendees -- listed by name and company. They also could view the conference agenda and read about daily activities. Biographies of speakers, complete with a photo, could also be summoned with the click of a mouse.

At the Apple Photo Station, attendees could get their picture taken -- by computer. Once entered into the system, the person's picture appeared any time he or she sent a message.

Users who got stumped using the system were rescued by a friendly face on video. The full-motion talking head offered advice on how to get out of trouble. With a smile, of course.

The system was developed especially for this year's EDUCOM meeting, which ended Saturday.

Northwest improves reservations system

Just in time for Christmas.

Northwest Airlines has signed a deal with American Telephone & Telegraph Co. that will double the call-handling capacity of its worldwide reservations system. The new network will connect reservation centers in Baltimore, New York, Tampa, Detroit, Minneapolis, Seattle and Los Angeles.

Under the current system, callers who dial into, say, the Baltimore office are put on hold if lines are jammed. Callers remain on hold until a Baltimore-based agent can take the call.

Under the new system, overflow calls will automatically be routed to another reservation center that isn't as busy.

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