An extremely brief history of wearable technology

In 1975 Pulsar, a division of the Hamilton Watch Company, launched the first calculator watch. The Time Computer Calculator 901 had a numeric keypad and function keys on the face and could add, divide, multiply and subtract. If you were looking to push the boat out, the 902 model also offered percentages. The first 100 were made from solid gold and cost about $4000. Soon other brands entered the market. On the cover of the Police’s single Wrapped Around Your Finger, you can see Sting with a black plastic Casio calculator watch. In Back to the Future Marty McFly also sported one. And more recently, in the final series of Breaking Bad, Walter White bought himself one as a birthday treat. It has to be said, though, that these calculator watches never really caught on. They were always held back by the size of the buttons, which you needed a toothpick to press. But some modern technological developments could change all that.

Today I’m going to be looking at wearable technology. Its proponents want to interweave technology into everyday life, making technology ubiquitous and interaction seamless. Scores of companies are currently experimenting with embedding sensors and micro-computers into the things we wear. At the moment this technology is in its infancy, but according to a study by ABI Research due to the relative ease of compatibility with smartphones and other electronic devices, the wearable technologies market will be worth half a billion dollars by 2018.

This is all part of the evolution of the computer. We began with those computers that used to fill a big air conditioned room and which inspired IBM’s Thomas Watson to claim that there would be enough demand for five in the whole world. Then came the standard desktop computer. Now we have a plethora of mobile devices. Wearable computing is just the next stage. At the moment the two most important commercial applications are for fitness and health; they are excellent at monitoring. There are a lot of challenges with this technology, in terms of durability, washability and cost. Once these issues have been sorted out, this technology will move into other areas such as tourism, transport and lifestyle. Now I’m going to look at four products that are currently being tested:

The NAVIGATE Jacket

The NAVIGATE Jacket uses integrated LED lighting and haptic (relating to or based on the sense of touch) feedback to help wearers find their destination. It comes with an app which stores relevant destinations and uploads the directions to the jacket which then gives turn by turn directions. The wearer sees the instructions on the sleeves of their jacket, with lights indicating the distance to the next turn and the current stage of the journey. Vibrations in the shoulders alert the user when to turn and in which direction.

Google glass

Google Glass is a 50-gram wearable computer with an optical head-mounted display which displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format and which can communicate with the Internet via natural language voice commands. A touchpad located on the side enables users to control the device by swiping through a timeline-like interface displayed on the screen. Sliding backward shows current events, such as weather, and sliding forward shows past events, such as phone calls, photos etc. This is Google’s vision for a mass-market ubiquitous computer. According to the product website with it you can:

Say “take a picture” to take a picture.

Record what you see. Hands-free.

Share what you see. Live.

Listen to your favourite songs from Google Play Music.

See directions right in front of you.

Speak to send a message.

Ask whatever’s on your mind.

Have your voice translated.

Indeed, it will even answer you without you having to ask. Sergey Brin has a dream:

My vision when we started Google 15 years ago was that eventually you wouldn’t have to have a search query at all, you would just have information come to you…

It is not yet on sale, but in June this year Pedro Guillen, Chief of Trauma Service of Clínica CEMTRO of Madrid, became the first doctor in the world to broadcast an operation through the use of Google Glass.

The iwatch

2013 was going to be the year of the smartwatch. Both Sony, with Sony Smartwatch 2, and Samsung and their Galaxy Gear smartwatch, have already launched their products. They are both designed as companion devices to smartphones. Now we are waiting for Apple to make its move. We still don’t know what Apple’s iWatch will look like, nor what it will do. It is rumoured that it will act as a central control hub for your entire home including heating and cooling, lights, sound systems, home theatre etc. Is Apple after control of our home’s electrical appliances?

Fundawear

In this blog I have already done a couple of posts on sex and technology in which I have looked at both sex robots and vibrators. So there was no way I was going to miss out on Fundawear, which is Durex’s first incursion into the area of connected devices. These undergarments have touch actuators in them which give haptic feedback. You put on special underwear that connects to a smartphone app. You can control the vibrations yourself with a smartphone as a remote, or they can be controlled by your partner’s device. This could be the perfect gift for couples in long-distance relationships. However, the thought of someone hacking into the system doesn’t bear thinking about.

All these devices do raise questions about distraction. You will often see me out and about in Madrid with my headphones and MP3 player. I will be listening to some course about the Inca civilisation or Greek philosophy. But these devices take distraction to a whole new level. We will have to regulate their use especially when it comes to dangerous activities like driving. We are demanding all these amazing functionalities, but we may need legislation that protects us from ourselves.

I don’t know whether you are convinced by these inventions. The medical applications do seem quite exciting. But, on the whole, I’m not particularly impressed. Then again I do have a strange attitude to technology I have so far resisted the temptations of the smartphone and I actually prefer a desktop to a laptop and the myriad portable devices that have emerged in the last few years. Give an e-book over a tablet any day of the week. Really we all need to decide what the right technological mix is for us. I am no Luddite – I just want to pick and choose the technology that is right for me.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: