1. What is it about
Imagine you are on your holiday and you are exploring a city you have never been to before. You want to know everything about this new place, understand its history, how people lived here in the past and how they live today. You want to quickly understand what this place stands for.
Now, imagine if you took your ‘Wearable Computer’ with you. While you are exploring the city, you come across some ruins. You are curious to know what they are. You use the touch screen on your wrist to request information for your present location. The GPS device embedded in your gadget knows where you are. Based on your location, information is pulled from a variety of sources available on the net and are aggregated by your device. At the same time, the camera attached to you is recording the environment around you. The camera records the orientation when pictures were taken. The collected information is then displayed back to you overlaid on top of the images taken by your camera. Names of places hover over various ruins, buildings and features of the environment you are in. You can even get to see extra pictures (taken by other visitors in the past), read the place’s history, news and latest developments. You can also add your own inputs, pictures and any other sensory information you collected for others. You can even set it to automatically broadcast this information, so you don’t have to think about it.
You can accomplish all of this with a number of devices attached to your body that seamlessly work together.
2. Where is the fun
- You no longer need museum audio guides as your custom wearable computer can give you much more information about anything you see with additional user annotations dynamically pulled from the net.
- While walking down the street, you can see the latest house prices overlaid on each house, the demographical data for the area, average income, growth potential and so on.
3. What are its Applications
We already have a primitive version of wearable computers; we call it mobile phone. We use them in our hands and leave them in our purse or pocket. Even as a primitive form, it has revolutionized the way we work and socialise. Wearable computing will influence just about everything:
- Medical doctors and nurses will go around with lots of gadgets attached to them, providing information about the patients they visit, staff they talk to and instruments they use.
- Engineers will use it to overlay technical information about the machine they want to operate on.
- Access to information will not be limited to use of a PC at home or at work. You will be online anywhere you go.
4. How developed is it
You can already buy all sorts of wearable computers, although they are somewhat crude. For example, Eurotech's Wrist-Worn PC is a computer that wraps around your forearm which is also known as Carpal PC. Tummy PC is a computer that is attached to your waist and you may use a wearable mini-mouse to operate it just like a desktop PC. There are some blogs on wearable computing though the field is in early stages. These attempts are indeed valuable, though the wearable computing as we would come to know it is likely to look very different.
An important part of wearable computing is a display device that can seamlessly project a display into your eyes such as a head-mounted-display. These may use LCD, OLED, or other types of display shown in front of your eyes similar to glasses. It is possible to show 3D objects by showing different images for each eye. Another more advanced method is to directly draw a raster scan into the retina. These devices are known as Virtual Retinal Display. In the future, miniaturization will make them more ergonomic as processing power and battery life is increased.
5. How can it be improved
The field is extremely young and as a result there are many issues, both technically and ergonomically, that need to be resolved before we can effectively use the device everywhere. For example
- A wearable computer should be easy to wear. You should not have to think, “Shall I take this with me or not?”. The benefit of using it should always overcome the hassle of taking it with you.
- It should show relevant, concise and stylish information so that you can make quick decision. When on the go, people are usually constrained by time. You may not have the luxury to click on 20 button sequences to find out the nearest dentist.
- We are just starting to get used to computers and access to information. The device should not overload us with too much information and should not make us dizzy if we use it all day.
- The device should be modular and extendible so that you don’t have to replace the entire gadget as technology progressed. The head-mounted-display doesn’t really need to do the main processing. The touch pad, wired glove or the camera should be upgradeable and replaceable without an impact on the rest of the system.
6. What does it lead to
Wearable computing leads to two kind of behaviour:
- Active search. You want to find about something or know some information so you can make a decision. Eventually, you will be able use your device to query for just about anything using your natural and most comfortable human-machine-interface, be it talking, clicking or mental thought.
- Dynamic feed. Your device, based on your environment and your personality will let you know of information that could be of interest to you. The device can have modes, so that when you are in certain modes such a business trip it filter out only those information that is relevant to you.
Computing wearable fashion shows will become more commonplace which can help people to decide what to wear so that they won’t look like aliens from outer space.
You may wonder where all that information comes from. The net is still in its infancy and there is a lot more information we can upload. The way we upload our images, interests and the like will be history. In the future, everyone will become a broadcaster. Your wearable computer will record your life experience and you choose what part of that you want to give to the rest of world. The computer will take care of the rest, by getting the data from you, uploading it to servers and making it available to anyone else on the planet who wants to access it.