Wearable Computing

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  • Topic: Wearable computer, Computer, Mobile computing
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Wearable Computing
Editor: Paul Lukowicz n University of Passau n paul.lukowicz@uni-passau.de

From Backpacks to Smartphones: Past, Present, and Future of Wearable Computers Oliver Amft and Paul Lukowicz

T

he 5th International Symposium on Wearable Computing in 2001 (ISWC 01) devoted an entire session to system design. More important, people wearing a broad range of wearable systems filled the conference halls. The exhibition and gadget show, both with a strong focus on wearable hardware, were the centerpiece of the conference. Among the systems shown (and worn) were the IBM Linux Watch, the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU)

Figure 1. CharmIT. Charmed Technologies began selling this wearable computer as the CharmIT Wearable Computing Kit in 2000.

SPOT platform, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIThrill, the ETH WearARM, and the CharmIT system (see Figure 1) that originated at GeorgiaTech (which has been the “workhorse” of wearable enthusiasts for many years). By contrast, at ISWC 08 not a single paper dealt with computing platforms. More tellingly, only two participants wore computer systems, and no one showed any new platforms at the exhibition. At the same time, by our estimate, around 30 percent (probably more) of the audience had iPhones and comparable smart phones and were using them to access the Internet on a regular basis. Does that mean that the smart phone has made the wearable computer obsolete? And where does the rise of the smart phone leave wearable computing research? While voices in the community are talking about the smart phone bringing the “death of the wearable computer” (a panel with this title was actually proposed for ISWC two years ago), we believe that the opposite is true. Today’s smart phones in many ways represent the culmination of the ideas that drove wearable systems research in the past. They offer a platform to explore core wearable research topics such as sens-

ing, context awareness, wearable interfaces, and new application concepts. At the same time, the market penetration of smart phones promises to give the results of such research a broad realworld impact.

ThE ConCEPT We can attribute the foundations of wearable computers to the inventions of pocket and wristwatches in the 16th century (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Watch). Among the first actual wearable computers were the systems to predict roulette wheels of Edward Thorp and Claude Shannon1 in the early 1960s and that of Hubert Upton to aid lip reading. In the early 1990s, Thad Starner and Steve Mann at MIT, 2 among others, pioneered modern-day wearable computing. At a time when computing had just entered the home with large, clumsy PCs, they envisioned computers that: • they could always have with them and use any time and any place, not just at the desk; • have interfaces that would make them usable even while a person is physically and mentally engaged in a complex real world; • augment human perception and mul-

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PERVASIVE computing

Published by the IEEE CS n 1536-1268/09/$25.00 © 2009 IEEE

Figure 3. Xybernaut. This wearable system was among the first commercial solutions of the 1990s.

backpack-mounted computer to control cameras. In the ’90s, increasFigure 2. Private Eye. Thad Starner sports wearable ing processing percomputing gear in 1993. formance paved tiply human mental capabilities; and the way for general-purpose wearable • have awareness of the physical envi- computers that allowed mobile users ronment and can incorporate this to perform classic desktop computing tasks. Many of the early systems were awareness in their functionality. worn at the waist, as locations close to Clearly, no off-the-shelf comput- the center of body mass made it easier ing devices existed at the time that fit- to deal with device sizes and weight. ted such a vision. Thus, the search for Among these systems were Doug Platt’s appropriate wearable computing devices Hip-PC in 1991, based on a Intel 80286...
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