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Wearable computer

Wearable computers are computers that are worn on the body. They have been applied to areas such as behavioral modeling, health monitoring systems, information technologies and media development. Wearable computers are especially useful for applications that require computational support while the user's hands, voice, eyes or attention are actively engaged with the physical environment.

"Wearable computing" is an active topic of research, with areas of study including user interface design, augmented reality, pattern recognition, use of wearables for specific applications or disabilities, electronic textiles and fashion design. Many issues are common to the wearables, mobile computing, Pervasive computing, Ambient intelligence and ubiquitous computing research communities, including power management and heat dissipation, software architectures, wireless and personal area networks and bobs.

One of the main features of a wearable computer is consistency. There is a constant interaction between the computer and user, ie. there is no need to turn the device on or off. Another feature is the ability to multi-task. It is not necessary to stop what you are doing to use the device; it is augmented into all other actions. These devices can be incorporated by the user to act like a prosthetic. It can therefore be an extension of the user’s mind and/or body.



Depending on how broadly one defines both wearable and computer, the first wearable computer could be as early as the 1500s with the invention of the pocket watch. The first device that would fit the modern-day image of a wearable computer was constructed in 1961 by the mathematician Edward O. Thorp, better known as the inventor of the theory of card-counting for blackjack, and Claude E. Shannon, who is best known as "the father of information theory." The system was a concealed cigarette-pack sized analog computer designed to predict roulette wheels. A data-taker would use microswitches hidden in his shoes to indicate the speed of the roulette wheel, and the computer would indicate an octant to bet on by sending musical tones via radio to a miniature speaker hidden in a collaborators ear canal. The system was successfully tested in Las Vegas in June 1961, but hardware issues with the speaker wires prevented them from using it beyond their test runs.Their wearable was kept secret until it was first mentioned in Thorp's book Beat the Dealer (revised ed.) in 1966 and later published in detail in 1969. The 1970s saw rise to similar roulette-prediction wearable computers using next-generation technology, in particular a group known as Eudaemonic Enterprises that used a CMOS 6502 microprocessor with 5K RAM to create a shoe-computer with inductive radio communications between a data-taker and better.

Besides gambling aids, early wearable applications included two notable systems designed to help the disabled. In 1967, Hubert Upton developed an analogue wearable computer that included an eyeglass-mounted display to aid lip reading. Using high and low-pass filters, the system would determine if a spoken phoneme was a fricative, stop consonant, voiced-fricative, voiced stop consonant, or simply voiced. An LED mounted on ordinary eyeglasses illuminated to indicate the phoneme type. The LEDs were positioned to enable a simple form of augmented reality; for example, when a phoneme was voiced the LED at the bottom of the glass illuminated, making it seem as if the speaker's throat was glowing. Another early wearable system was a camera-to-tactile vest for the blind, published by C.C. Collins in 1977, that converted images into a 1024-point, 10-inch square tactile grid on a vest. On the consumer end, 1977 also saw the introduction of the HP-01 algebraic calculator watch by Hewlett-Packard.


The 1980s saw the rise of more general-purpose wearable computers. In 1981 Steve Mann designed and built a backpack-mounted 6502-based computer to control flash-bulbs, cameras and other photographic systems. Mann went on to be an early and active researcher in the wearables field, especially known for his 1994 creation of the Wearable Wireless Webcam. Though perhaps not technically "wearable," in 1986 Steve Roberts built Winnebiko-II, a recumbent bicycle with on-board computer and chording keyboard Winnebiko II was the first of Steve Roberts' forays into nomadic computing that allowed him to type while riding.

In 1989 Reflection Technology marketed the Private Eye head-mounted display, which scanned a vertical array of LEDs across the visual field using a vibrating mirror. This display gave rise to several hobbyist and research wearables, including Gerald "Chip" Maguire's IBM / Columbia University Student Electronic Notebook, Doug Platt's Hip-PC and Carnegie Mellon University's VuMan 1 in 1991. The Student Electronic Notebook consisted of the Private Eye, Toshiba diskless AIX notebook computers (prototypes) and a stylus based input system plus virtual keyboard, and used direct-sequence spread spectrum radio links to provide all the usual TCP/IP based services, including NFS mounted file systems and X11, all running in the Andrew Project environment. The Hip-PC included an Agenda palmtop used as a chording keyboard attached to the belt and a 1.44 megabyte floppy drive. Later versions incorporated additional equipment from Park Engineering. The system debuted at "The Lap and Palmtop Expo" on April 16, 1991. VuMan 1 was developed as part of a Summer-term course at |Carnegie Mellon's Engineering Design Research Center, and was intended for viewing house blueprints. Input was through a three-button unit worn on the belt, and output was through Reflection Tech's Private Eye. The CPU was an 8 MHz 80188 processor with 0.5 MB ROM.


In 1993 the Private Eye was used in Thad Starner's wearable, based on Doug Platt's system and built from a kit from Park Enterprises, a Private Eye display on loan from Devon Sean McCullough, and the Twiddler chording keyboard made by Handykey. Many iterations later this system became the MIT "Tin Lizzy" wearable computer design, and Starner went on to become one of the founders of MIT's wearable computing project. 1993 also saw Columbia University's augmented-reality system known as KARMA: Knowledge-based Augmented Reality for Maintenance Assistance. Users would wear a Private Eye display over one eye, giving an overlay effect when the real world was viewed with both eyes open. KARMA would overlay wireframe schematics and maintenance instructions on top of whatever was being repaired. For example, graphical wireframes on top of a laser printer would explain how to change the paper tray. The system used sensors attached to objects in the physical world to determine their locations, and the entire system ran tethered from a desktop computer.

In 1994 Edgar Matias and Mike Ruicci of the University of Toronto, debuted the "wrist computer." Their system presented an alternative approach to the emerging head-up display plus chord keyboard wearable. The system was built from a modified HP 95LX palmtop computer and a Half-QWERTY one-handed keyboard. With the keyboard and display modules strapped to the operator's forearms, text could be entered by bringing the wrists together and typing. The same technology was used by IBM researchers to create the half-keyboard "belt computer. Also in 1994, Mik Lamming and Mike Flynn at Xerox EuroPARC demonstrated the Forget-Me-Not, a wearable device that would record interactions with people and devices and store this information in a database for later query.. It interacted via wireless transmitters in rooms and with equipment in the area to remember who was there, who was being talked to on the telephone, and what objects were in the room, allowing queries like "Who came by my office while I was on the phone to Mark?" As with the Toronto system, Forget-Me-Not was not based on a head-mounted display.

Also in 1994, DARPA started the Smart Modules Program to develop a modular, humionic approach to wearable and carryable computers, with the goal of producing a variety of products including computers, radios, navigation systems and human-computer interfaces that have both military and commercial use. In July 1996 DARPA went on to host the "Wearables in 2005" workshop, bringing together industrial, university and military visionaries to work on the common theme of delivering computing to the individual. A follow-up conference was hosted by Boeing in August 1996, where plans were finalized to create a new academic conference on wearable computing. In October 1997, Carnegie Mellon University, MIT, and Georgia Tech co-hosted the IEEE International Symposium on Wearables Computers in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The symposium was a full academic conference with published proceedings and papers ranging from sensors and new hardware to new applications for wearable computers, with 382 people registered for the event.


In 2002, as part of Kevin Warwick's Project Cyborg, Warwick's wife, Irena, wore a necklace which was electronically linked to Warwick's nervous system via an implanted electrode array. The color of the necklace changed between red and blue dependent on the signals on Warwick's nervous system.


The commercialization of general-purpose wearable computers, as led by companies such as Xybernaut, CDI and ViA Inc, has thus far met with limited success. Publicly-traded Xybernaut tried forging alliances with companies such as IBM and Sony in order to make wearable computing widely available, but in 2005 their stock was delisted and the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid financial scandal and federal investigation. Xybernaut emerged from bankruptcy protection in January, 2007. In 1998 Seiko marketed the Ruputer, a computer in a (fairly large) wristwatch, to mediocre returns. In 2001 IBM developed and publicly displayed two prototypes for a wristwatch computer running Linux, but the product never came to market. In 2002 Fossil, Inc. announced the Fossil Wrist PDA, which ran the Palm OS. Its release date was set for summer of 2003, but was delayed several times and was finally made available on January 5 2005. Timex Datalink is another example of a practical wearable computer. Hitachi launched a wearable computer called Poma in 2002. Arcom Control Systems offers the ZYPAD, a wrist wearable touch screen computer with GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and which can run a number of custom applications.

Evidence of the allure of the wearable computer and the weak market acceptance is evident with market leading Panasonic Computer Solutions Company's failed product in this market. Panasonic has specialized in mobile computing with their Toughbook line for over 10 years and has extensive market research into the field of portable, wearable computing products. In 2002, Panasonic introduced a wearable brick computer coupled with a handheld or armworn touchscreen. The brick would communicate wirelessly to the screen, and concurrently the brick would communicate wirelessly out to the internet or other networks. The wearable brick was quietly pulled from the market in 2005, while the screen evolved to a thin client touchscreen used with a handstrap.

Military use

The most extensive military program in the wearables arena is the US Army's Land Warrior system, which will eventually be merged into the Future Force Warrior system.

See also


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