Wearable Computer Technology
Wearable Technology can be divided into two categories, Personal Assistants and Personal Enhancements ( VASE Lab, 2000 ). Almost all that is considered wearable technology can be tagged into one of these two categories.
The Oregon Department of Human Services defines PDA (Personal Digital Assistants) as, devices that combine mobile computing and networking features in a palm-size device. They provide easy mobility from the workstation and synchronization capabilities with the desktop to upload and download information. The PDA can enhance productivity in DHS work environments where mobile computing is necessary or advantageous.
The Virtual Applications, Systems and Enviroments Laboratory of the University of Essex defines Personal Enhancements as a wearable computer which has been designed to provide a user with some kind of enhancement.
There are many opinions of the definition of a wearable computer. “A computer is wearable when the CPU and battery pack are small enough to be carried on a belt or in a pouch” (Stevens, 2). The MIT webpage defines a wearable computer as, “…a computer that is always with you, is comfortable and easy to keep and use, and is as unobtrusive as clothing.
Wearable computers have many characteristics that establishes its technolgy as a very versitile device. The following characteristics were taken directly from the MIT website (MIT,1): http://www.media.mit.edu/
- Portable while operational: The most distinguishing feature of a wearable is that it can be used while walking or otherwise moving around. This distinguishes wearables from both desktop and laptop computers.
- Hands-free use: Military and industrial applications for wearables especially emphasize their hands-free aspect, and concentrate on speech input and heads-up display or voice output. Other wearables might also use chording keyboards, dials, and joysticks to minimize the tying up of a user's hands.
- Sensors: In addition to user inputs, a wearable should have sensors for the physical environment. Such sensors might include wireless communications, cameras, or microphones.
- "Attention-getting": A wearable should be able to convey information to its user even when not actively being used. For example, if your computer wants to let you know you have new e-mail and whom it is from, it should be able to communicate this information to you immediately.
- Always on: By default a wearable is always on and working, sensing, and acting. This is opposed to the normal use of pen-based "Personal Digital Assistants," which normally sit in one's pocket and are only woken up when a task needs to be done.
Many events have shaped the evolution of the wearable computer. Various innovations and experiments have helped pave the way for wearable computers. The following is a detailed timeline of these events (Rhodes,1):
- 1960- Heilig patents a head-mounted stereophonic television display: In 1960, Heilig patented a stereophonic television Head-Mounted Display (HMD). His patent followed this in 1962 for the "Sensorama Simulator", a virtual reality simulator with handlebars, binocular display, vibrating seat, stereophonic speakers, cold air blower, and a device close to the nose that would generate odors that fit the action in the film.
- 1960- Manfred Clynes coins the word "Cyborg": Manfred Clynes and co-author Nathan Kline first coined the phrase "Cyborg" in a story called "Cyborgs and Space" published in Astronautics (September 1960). The term was used to describe a human being augmented with technological "attachments".
- 1966- Ed Thorp and Claude Shannon reveal their invention of the first wearable computer, used to predict roulette wheels: The system was a cigarette-pack sized analog computer with 4 push buttons. A data-taker would use the buttons to indicate the speed of the roulette wheel, and the computer would then send tones via radio to a bettor's hearing aid.
- 1966- Sutherland creates first computer-based head-mounted display: Sutherland created a tethered head-mounted display (HMD) using two CRTs mounted beside each of the wearer's ears, with half-silvered mirrors reflecting the images to the user's eyes. Another system determined where the user was looking and projected a monoscopic wireframe image such that it looked like a cube was floating in mid-air. The bulk of the system was attached to the ceiling above the wearer's head.
- 1967- Bell Helicopter experiments with HMDs with input from servo-controlled cameras: Bell Helicopter Company performed several early camera-based augmented-reality systems. In one, the head-mounted display was coupled with an infrared camera that would give military helicopter pilots the ability to land at night in rough terrain. An infrared camera, which moved as the pilot's head moved, was mounted on the bottom of a helicopter. The pilot's field of view was that of the camera.
- 1967- Hubert Upton invents analogue wearable computer with eyeglass-mounted display to aid lip-reading: Hubert Upton designed an analogue wearable computer as an aid for lip-reading. Using high and low-pass filters, the system would determine if a speaker phoneme was a fricative, stop, voiced-fricative, voiced stop, or simply voiced. An LED mounted on ordinary eyeglasses illuminated to indicate the phoneme type. The LED's were positioned to enable a simple form of augmented reality.
- 1968- Douglas Engelbart demonstrates one-handed chording keyboard in NLS (oN Line System): At the Fall Joint Computer Conference, Engelbart demonstrated the NLS system, one of the first personal computers that paved the way for both the interactive personal computer and groupware. The system included on-handed keyboard, word processing, outline processing, split windows, hypermedia, mouse, shared documents, e-mail filtering, desktop conferencing, annotation of shared documents, interactive sharing, quarter-sized video sharing, turn taking, and network information.
- 1972- Alan Lewis invents a digital camera-case computer to predict roulette wheels: Like Thorp and Shannon's system, Lewis used a radio link between data taker and bettor. The data-taker used the computer to predict the roulette wheel, then whispered the prediction via radio link to the bettor's hearing-aid radio-receiver.
- 1977- C.C. Collins develops wearable camera-to-tactile vest for the blind: The result of ten years research, C.C. Collins of the Smith-Kettlewell Institute of Visual Sciences developed a five pound wearable with a head-mounted camera that converted images into a 1024-point, 10" square tactile grid on a vest. The system was tested as a visual prosthetic for the blind.
- 1978- Eudaemonic Enterprises invents a digital wearable computer in a shoe to predict roulette wheels: Using a CMOS 6502 microprocessor with 5K RAM, Eudaemonic Enterprises created a shoe computer with toe-control and inductive radio communications with between a data taker and better. This is the only known roulette machine of the time to show a statistical profit on a gambling run, though they never made the "big score."
- 1979- Sony introduces the Walkman: Sony introduces the Walkman, a commercial wearable cassette player.
- 1981- Steve Mann designs backpack-mounted computer to control photographic equipment: While still in high school, Steve Mann wired a 6502 computer into a steel-frame backpack to control flash-bulbs, cameras, and other photographic systems. The display was a camera viewfinder CRT attached to a helmet, giving 40 column text. Input was from seven microswitches built into the handle of a flash-lamp, and lead-acid batteries powered the entire system.
- 1990- Olivetti develops an active badge system, using infrared signals to communicate a person's location: Olivetti developed a name badge that transmitted a unique id to IR receivers placed in rooms around a building. This allowed these "smart rooms" to track a person's location and log it in a central database.
- 1991- Doug Platt debuts his 286-based "Hip-PC": Doug Platt's system was a shoebox-sized computer based on the Ampro "Little Board" XT module. The screen was a Reflection Technology Private Eye display and the keyboard was an Agenda palmtop used as a chording keyboard attached to the belt. It included a 1.44 megabyte floppy drive.
- 1993- Thad Starner starts constantly wearing his computer, based on Doug Platt's design: Starner had attempted previous wearables based on both a TRS-80 model 100 and a SPARC Workstation, but never got them working reliably. When he heard Doug Platt give a talk at the MIT Media Lab, he shifted over to Platt's system based on a 286 chip. In June '93, Platt and Starner custom-made Starner's first working system with parts from a kit made by Handykey.
- 1993- BBN finishes Pathfinder system, a wearable computer with GPS and radiation detection system: BBN's Pathfinder system was completed in Fall 1993, and included a wearable computer, Global Positioning System (GPS), and radiation detection system.
- 1993- Thad Starner writes first version of the Remembrance Agent augmented memory software: The Remembrance Agent (RA was an automated associative memory that would recommend relevant files from a database, based on whatever notes were currently being written on a wearable computer. The system was integrated into Emacs, and later was rewritten as part of continuing research by Bradley Rhodes.
- 1993- Feiner, MacIntyre, and Seligmann develop the KARMA augmented reality system: Steve Feiner, Blair MacIntyre, and Doree Seligmann at Columbia University developed KARMA: Knowledge-based Augmented Reality for Maintenance Assistance. Users would wear a Private Eye display over on 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.
- 1994- Mike Lamming and Mike Flynn develop "Forget-Me-Not," a continuous personal recording system: The Forget-Me-Not was 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?"
- 1994- Edgar Matias debuts a "wrist computer" with half-QWERTY keyboard: Built by Edgar Matias and Mike Ruicci of the University of Toronto, this "wrist computer" presented an alternative approach to the emerging HUD + 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 a "belt computer".
- Steve Mann starts transmitting images from a head-mounted camera to the Web: In December 1994, Steve Mann developed the "Wearable Wireless Webcam." Webcam transmitted images point-to-point from a head-mounted analog camera to an SGI base station via amateur TV frequencies. The images were processed by the base station and displayed on a webpage in near real-time.
- 1996- Boeing hosts wearables conference in Seattle: Boeing hosted a small conference on wearable computing August 19-21, 1996. In attendance were researchers and administrators from industry, academia, and independent laboratories. Several vendors of displays, speech recognition systems, and full wearable computers were also present.
- 1997- Creapole Ecole de Creation and Alex Pentland produce Smart Clothes Fashion Show: The fashion show was a design collaboration between the students and faculty of Creapole Ecole de Creation (Paris) and Prof. Alex Pentland (MIT, Boston), with the goal of envisioning the impending marriage of fashion and wearable computers. Beginning in April 1996, designs were iterated and clothes produced, with the final runway fashion show being held at the Pompidou Center in Paris in February 1997.
- CMU, MIT and Georgia Tech co-host the first IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers: CMU, MIT, and Georgia Tech co-hosted the IEEE International Symposium on Wearable Computers in Cambridge, MA October 13-14, 1997. The symposium was a full academic conference with published proceedings and papers ranging from sensors and new hardware to new applications for wearable computers.
Wearable Generalities and Competing Technologies
The start of more convenient technology started out with the laptop units, but is now becoming e ven handier with the development of palm pilots and handheld computer devices. With the new technology one becomes less limited to were they work. Considering now you can travel anywhere and have a more flexible office work place. The wearable computer provides the ultimate in network access-- hands-free, heads-up operation with complete mobility and ample computing power. Now personnel can connect to enterprise information systems without interrupting their work. With the convenience of voice activation and head-mounted or touch screen display options, they can meet their ever-broadening responsibilities, supported by immediate access to on-line manuals, catalogs, parts lists, drawings, supplier information, work forms and more ( Xybernaut ).
Wearable Computers in the Fashion Industry
The wearable PC is definitely making a statement in the fashion industry. Xybernaut's Mobile Assistant IV was part of the Stephen Sprouse Fall Winter 1999/2000 collection (Automatic I.D. News). Within the article, Stephen Sprouse commented, “I had no idea that the computer industry has advanced to the point that people can be wearing computers.” Sprouse believes that wearable computers made the audience think beyond cloths to the new millennium and added an element of excitement to the show.
Werner Weber, director Narayanaswami, Raghunath; 2000of Infineon's Laboratory on Emerging Technologies, is working with a small group of scientists to create a chip packaging technique that will allow clothing manufacturers to combine their clothing lines with washable, wearable computer processors. Infineon hopes this will pave the way for a new crossover segment of the computer industry, where the latest fashion include smart shirts or jackets with sewn in entertainment systems.
Competition Within the Wearable Computer Industry
Many companies compete to be the best, and create a new product that blows any of the other's out of the water. Creations such as: wrist computers, wearable PC's, computer glasses and smart cloths are inventions pushing the motivation of computer technology.
Most of the wrist computers available are not general-purpose computers but instead are smart watches with special features. For example, the Casio WMP-1V is a wearable MP3-player, and the Casio WQV-1 is a digital camera embedded in a watch with a color display (Narayanaswami, Raghunath; 2000). More common devices such as the Casio PC Unite have PIM features and the capability to synchronize the data with a desktop computer.
The main limiting factor for a wrist computer is the size. As the device has to be a more or less wrist watched sized, it restricts the battery size and hence CPU unit, display size. In addition, the lack of surface area greatly restricts the input methods available for the user. One of the research projects in this field is the IBM smart watch with a high-resolution display (Narayanaswami, Raghunath; 2000). Its goal is to design an open, extensible computing platform with a touch screen user interface, thus giving more area to the display at the expense of the buttons.
The head-mount displays sets the wearable technology apart from the competition equipped with a palm-sized display unit. The technology used by most wearable vendors suspends the display in front of one eye in a set that fits in the head. “It feels quite natural. The fact that you look at it with one eye verses two is a small issue, especially if you are just paging through things and not reading for hours on end. What it looks like is what you would see if you were looking at a 17 inch display on your desk, and you went back about 2 feet” (Stevens, 2).
The MIT Media Lab is developing MIThril, a new context aware wearable computing research platform which is wearable computer system based on the Intel â Strong ARM processor (MIT Media Lab, 2000).
The most familiar type of smart clothing is the ESD textiles required to be worn by many electronic companies on order to prevent damage caused by static electricity. A more sophisticated item of clothing technology is the Cyberia suit by a Finnish company Reima-Tutta (Rantanen et al., 2000). It monitors the users heart rate, positions, and internal and external temperatures.
Current Usage of Wearable Computer
Wearable technology is used chiefly because of its convenience, and the mobility is has to be wherever the consumer is able to work. Many companies are introducing wearable technology in order to gain production efficiency.
Geophysical Survey Systems, Inc. or GSSI is a leading manufacturer in the utility and construction industries. The wearable computer is a new solution for the company by making location and management of underground assets more productive, more cost-effective and safer. The operator wears the computer while pushing the radar equipment over the surface to be scanned, and has the system controls and scan results available at all times ( Xybernaut ). This effectiveness leads to enhanced safety, leads to condensed costs, and better quality of information.
Schneider Excavating Survey crews use the ViA II Wearable PC's to complete their work. Crews have considerably improved the procedure of surveying. Fred Hartzheim, a civil engineer for Schneider Excavating said, “We're 150% more efficient then we were with laptops. We can double our work output, even when we cut our crew size from two to one” (Murray, 1). The computer is voice activated, so that eliminates a mouse, and keypads.
Cadillac dealerships are beginning to use voice-controlled, wearable computers. Service technicians are able to access complex databases of manuals available for the servicing of the vehicles. John F. Smith, Cadillac's general manager, states, “The days of a technician pulling up his toolbox to the car and using only the knowledge inside his head to accomplish his task are over. There's too much to memorize and the level of expertise required exceeds traditional training” ( Teltronics ). Through this technology Cadillac is able to repair cars faster, at a lower cost.
Framatome Technology, Inc. (FTI) is a company that inspects steam generators in nuclear power plants. FTI was able to improve its inspection inventory process by implementing the usage of wearable technology. When an inspection is performed, the workers need to know the position of the equipment and the equipment that has been used in the containment area, which is considered to be radioactive. Glenn Gumpman, FTI systems Engineer oversees the inventory process. He say's, “With tens of millions of dollars of inventory in inspection and maintenance equipment, much of it is customer-made. We need to know where things are and what's available in what status” (Xybernaut). By using the wearable computer FTI has control of assets and improves significant inventory information.
Food service can be improved by the use of this technology. After the order is taken, it can be transmitted immediately to the employees behind the counter. The process is much faster, thus increases customer satisfaction (ViA).
Insurance Adjusters are able to print an estimate as soon as the damages property is inspected. This is possible through the use of a wearable computer. Paperwork, time, and cost are reduced from this mobile solution (ViA).
It is obvious that there are many positive uses for wearable computer technology. Eventually use of the technology will increase throughout the years, and the technology will become more admired. Wearable computers are for everyone with the eye for knowledge, and can be used at businesses, home, school, or for personal use. Through the use of this rising technology productivity rates, and efficiency should significantly increase.
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