If you still think sporting a pocket protector is dorky, get out of the '80s. The next fad in nerd-wear could be the wearable PC, a 486 machine that you actually strap on for hands-free computing.

Developed by Xybernaut Corp., in Fairfax, Va. (703-631-6925), the Mobile Assistant takes portability to a new level. The computer, which weighs about three pounds, is attached to a belt worn around the waist. The monitor hangs down from a headband so that it's positioned directly in front of the user's right eye -- just like a surgeon's head mirror. Most users add voice-recognition software and give verbal commands to the computer through a microphone, though a wrist keyboard is also available.

The product has been around for almost a year, but its market has remained small, largely because of its high price (base price is $8,750). But Xybernaut hopes to have a new version out in the fall that will be cheaper yet lighter and more powerful. The manufacturer is also working with value-added resellers (VARs) to develop customized software to sell with the unit. For example, NeuroSystems Inc., in Bethesda, Md., one of Xybernaut's preferred VARs, is working on a customized tool kit that uses intelligent agents to prompt technicians through a series of questions and help them quickly pinpoint problems in manufacturing equipment.

-- Sarah Schafer