In our digitally enhanced world where technological developments are moving at lightning speed, new ideas and concepts are constantly being developed. One such technology is that of wearable computing. Although not a recent phenomenon, wearable computing has gained immense popularity in the past few years since it has become possible to pack more and more features into increasingly smaller devices.
Wearable computing refers to smart devices that can be worn anywhere on the human body, from clothing to accessories, and can perform all or most of the functions of a computer. These devices work on Human-Computer Interaction principles where the computer is not just a passive object being used by humans, but is like an assistant that works together with, or as an extension of, their brains.
Wearable computing usually integrates technologies such as Ubiquitous Computing; “Everyware”, technology that is integrated into everyday objects and can merge with our surroundings, and Ambient Intelligence; intelligence that is enhanced by the presence of people and functions in accordance with context and personal preferences of the user, integrating into the environment to assist with everyday activities, tasks and challenges in a natural way.
Some of these wearable computers may also incorporate Augmented Reality, which basically means they enhance our perceived reality to include their own input as an added layer in order to assist with different tasks. Another feature of these gadgets is that they operate on an always-on principle. This means that they do not need to be turned on like a traditional desktop or laptop computer, but are switched on and aware at all times, working in the background, available for use whenever the wearer feels the need.
Although inventors have been working on this concept for decades, only recently have we seen commercial applications of the idea which offers some level of usefulness, or general public interest at the least. At this point, wearable tech such as smartwatches hasn’t yet become mainstream, but that’s just a matter of time. The tech is fast gaining popularity among the masses and has become almost mainstream among tech aficionados.
These smart wearable devices generally pair with your smartphone and work in sync to help you keep track of your digital life. However, many of these, such as the Neptune Pine smartwatch, can work as independent devices with their own touch screen and even a QWERTY touch keyboard. They can perform all manner of tasks including taking pictures, receiving and sending emails and texts, making and taking video calls, browsing the internet, running video games and many other interesting apps, and a lot more which literally makes them tiny computers which can be worn right on your wrist.
Fitness trackers are another commercial application of this technology which is quite useful. They assist the wearer keep track of workouts, meals, sleep and other health indicators such as heart-rate. These devices are used as motivators in fitness training and help individuals get an overall idea of their health, as well as get advice on how to change their lifestyle to improve quality of life.
Smartwatches are followed closely by smartglasses, the next big thing in wearable tech. Smartglasses, such as the Google Glass, are eyeglasses that act as computer screens for the person wearing them. These are lightweight, and their heads-up display makes use of augmented reality, which means users do not need to look away from their usual line of vision in order to use the device and interact with it. The device is mostly hands free and is operated by voice commands which can be used to carry out all kinds of functions on the device. You can take photos and videos, send emails and texts, and upload photos on Facebook, all via voice commands. You can even get head-turning directions through Google Maps. Basically, this device turns your world into a screen of sorts.
Wearable tech that incorporates clothing, headphones, shoes, gloves and jewelry are also being explored, researched, and developed to bring to us computers that are camouflaged as everyday clothing on our bodies.
Steve Mann is one of the pioneers of wearable computing technology, and his vision is very vast for the future of this industry. He believes that we will soon be able to not just use computers as helpful assistants, but they will become extensions of us and will function as a “second brain” so that we can easily carry our complex tasks. He calls this theory “Humanistic Intelligence”, which means that humans and computers will not only interact with each other but will become one, and with computers resting as close to us as the clothes on our backs (literally), they will be able to detect our thoughts, moods and preferences and will be able to perceive the world much as we do in order to give us contextual data and assistance.
Such a device is already in production, which makes use of personal imaging and mediated reality, as opposed to augmented reality. This device, Known as EyeTap, will be able to see the world through our eyes (and through a camera) and will adjust our view with its own, so that as it interacts with the world and delivers information, we can readily view this in relation to what we are looking at, at that moment. For example, this device will look at a person, carry out facial recognition and search your database for a name and other information, and then display this data next to this person no matter where they move on your field of vision. In this way, the computer is not just displaying information, but is working in unison with your brain, sharing your experiences and using them to assist you in your daily life.
The Mindmesh is another project Steve Mann is working on which can be “plugged into the brain” through a mesh of various electrodes. This can permanently be attached to the brain as well, acting as a Visual Memory Prosthetic for people with diseases that impair sight or memory. A “cyberglog” of your entire life can thus be recorded and be referred to later. This invention can blur the lines between remembering and recording, and the eye and the camera.
Such devices can be very useful in the corporate world as well, helping business executives keep track of meetings and other appointments while not deviating from the task at hand. Managers and heads can easily view information about people who work under them, and workers can access and view information readily during meetings to make workflow more efficient.
These devices have many uses that can be utilized by the public sector. They are already being implemented in the military, with the American Army introducing a small wearable computer in 1989 to assist soldiers in the battlefield. Currently this has developed into the Land Warrior program, which is the most expensive program to date. Wearable GPS trackers and maps can also be very useful for soldiers during combact.
Mediated Reality technology can help in a lot of public sector organizations, especially with multiple vision choices such as infra-red vision which can help law enforcement officers detect hot spots indicating where a certain individual stood and what they came in contact with recently and hot car engines and other electronic devices can indicate which ones were recently used, to give a small example. Facial recognition apps can easily be utilized on the go to identify suspects and GPS and directions can be used in chases.
Technologies like the Mindmesh and the mediated reality both can be used in the health and educational organizations. In the field of medicine, it can help with visual impairments and sensory integration and associative memory disorders, to help them see through a modified version of mediated reality and to help the brain with recall in diseases like Alzheimers. In schools and universities, mediated reality can play a huge part in making lessons more interesting and productive and the schooling system more efficient. Augmented reality can be a powerful tool in many training facilities, especially for the police force, air force, navy and the military where various targets, goals and achievements can be overlaid on real world scenarios, with the progress being automatically recorded by the worn device.
Even after years of research and development, the wearable computing market is still in its infancy. A huge issue is the design and look which keep it from being integrated into everyday like without standing out or interfering with social interactions; most people avoid these gadgets because they look “geeky”. However, with the fast paced advancement in smart wearable tech, this issue will hopefully be solved with wearable computers being introduced into clothing, shoes, gloves, jewelry and even headphones.
Developers and users alike need to be mindful of such issue as invasion of privacy brought on by the covert nature of these devices and the constant surveillance they bring with them, and the extreme dependence on technology which impairs a lot of our senses. That being said, wearable tech certainly seems to be the way of the future, and pretty soon, we might prefer wearing our smartphones on our bodies rather than carry them in our pockets.by