What is Wearable Computing?

“A wearable computer is a computer that is subsumed into the personal space of the user, controlled by the user, and has both operational and interactional constancy i.e. is always on and always accessible. Most notably, it is a device that is always with the user, and into which the user can always enter commands and execute a set of such entered commands, and in which the user can do so while walking around or doing other activities”
- Steve Mann (1998)

The Six Attributes of Wearable Computing by Steve Mann (Professor at UofT)

Unmonopolizing of the user’s attention: the user can attend other tasks without having to remove the device or it will not distract the user from other tasks
Unrestrictive to the user: the user can still use the device while walking or running
Observable by the user: the user is aware of the device at all times
Controllable by the user: the user has control at all times
Attentive to the environment: wearable systems can enhance environmental and situational awareness
Communicative to others: wearable systems may be used as communications medium

Early Wearable Computers

Wearable computers have existed since the 1960s in different experimental and prototype forms. In the mid 1960s, Bell Helicopter Company worked on a project where a head-mounted display was coupled with an infrared camera that would give the pilots the ability to see where to land in a rough dark terrain. Attached to the helicopter is another infrared camera that would move according to the pilot’s movement. Another example would be Hewlett-Packard’s HP-01; a wristwatch/algebraic calculator. Basically it was combined into a single user interface.


People wouldn’t think of spacesuit as a wearable computer because we only see a white suit, not knowing what is inside. A spacesuit protects the astronaut and provides communication between the astronaut and the mother ship. Inside of a spacesuit displays a single line of text and contains a human voice relay channel. Because the spacesuits are made to use in space where it’s like a vacuum, the technology is very limited. NASA and its partners are trying to create support systems using head-up displays, wrist-mounted displays and modifications of the current chest-mounted display and control system.


Future Force Warrior (FFW)

A project undertaken by US as to design and create ‘A Formidable Warrior in an Invincible Team, able to See First, Understand First, Act First, % Finish Decisively.’ Basically, they want to create a light-weight lethal, fully-integrated individual combat system, including weapon, head-to-toe individual protection, netted communications, and soldier worn power sources and enhanced human performance. The wearable computing will be the power vision, networked distributed sensor and communication array with a GPS installed. Thermal and night vision sensors will be implanted in the helmets as well.


Biomedical Application

Phillips Research has developed bra and underwear that can monitor heart rate or blood pressure and will be able to call for help. Electrodes are imbedded into the undergarment’s fabric which then sends data to a microprocessor that analyzes the signals and change in heart rate. This wearable computing is very useful to people with heart problems or the elderly who might not know what is coming to them.


Modern Wearable Computing

Today, many companies are looking for opportunities to create wearable computing not just for people with health related issues but now for public consumer for ease and convenience.

ZD Net Blogs: The University of Buffalo's Virtual Reality lab developed a cap for your index finger which can track and sense movement, and can be used as a 3D digitizer

Apple and Nike’s Running Mates: The two companies joined together to create a pair of shoes with electronic sensors imbedded in the sole and communicates to a small wireless receiver attached to the Apple’s iPod. The components work together to give voice prompts, interjected while music is playing, that tell runners how far they've gone and at what pace. The iPod will also keep track of the duration, distance, and other information on each run. The data could then be uploaded to a Mac or PC, and from there to a Nike Web site called Nikeplus.com, where users can track progress, set goals, and share results.

A Wrist-wron Linux PC

EyeBud – turns video iPod into big screen TV

Works Cited:
Benyon, David, Phil Turner, and Susan Turner. Designing Interactive Systems. England: Pearson Education Limited, 2005. 410-416.

Image Sources:
Biomedical Application <http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/39428000/jpg/_39428330_203bral.jpg>
Future Force Warrior <http://www.natick.army.mil/about/pao/pubs/warrior/04/novdec/FFW_Front1.jpg>
HP-01 <http://www.oldcalculatormuseum.com/hp-01.jpg>
Modern Wearable Computers images from <http://www.redwoodhouse.com/wearable/>
Space Suit <http://strangeblue.iwarp.com/images/emu.jpg>
Steve Mann <http://www.theharrowgroup.com/articles/20040329/20040329_files/image007.jpg>