The Newton personal digital assistant from Apple Computer Inc. hasn't turned out to be a hot seller among ordinary computer users. But Newton's basic technology is being adapted for some special--and surprising--uses. The Center of Rehabilitation Engineering in Lund, Sweden, for instance, has turned Sharp Corp.'s version of the Newton into a machine called Isaac. It's designed mainly to help the blind and those with other handicaps, but it may prove useful in such fields as forestry, ranching, oil exploration, and emergency relief.
The 4.5-pound Isaac comes equipped with a digital camera, satellite navigation receiver, and a cellular phone with two channels--one for data, another for voice. Most of the extra electronics fit in a small shoulder bag. Lars Philipson, chief designer, says that someone lost in unfamiliar territory could use Isaac to snap a picture of the surrounding scene and send it via cellular link to a central support center. There, operators could evaluate the picture and send back precise instructions about where to proceed, for instance. Or, a forester surveying land could record a series of pictures, each one "stamped" with location data calculated from satellite signals.