A SHORT HISTORY OF WEARABLE COMPUTERS


Also known as body-borne computers are miniature electronic devices that are worn by the bearer under, with or on top of clothing. This class of wearable technology has been developed for general or special purpose information technologies and media development. Wearable computers are especially useful for applications that require more complex computational support than just hardware coded logics. One of the main features of a wearable computer is consistency. There is a constant interaction between the computer and user, i.e. there is no need to turn the device on or off. Another feature is the ability to multi-task. It is not necessary to stop what you are doing to use the device; it is augmented into all other actions. These devices can be incorporated by the user to act like a prosthetic. It can therefore be an extension of the user’s mind and/or body. Many issues are common to the wearables as with mobile computing, ambient intelligence and ubiquitous computing research communities, including power management and heat dissipation, software architectures, wireless and personal area networks. The International Symposium on Wearable Computers is the longest-running academic conference on the subject of wearable computers. In many applications, user’s skin, hands, voice, eyes, arms as well as motion or attention are actively engaged as the physical environment.

Wearable computer items have been initially developed for and applied with: behavioral modeling; health care monitoring systems; service management; mobile phones; smartphones; electronic textiles; fashion design and other usage also. Today still “wearable computing” is a topic of active research, with areas of study including user interface design, augmented reality, pattern recognition. The use of wearables for specific applications or for compensating disabilities as well as supporting elderly people steadily increases. The development of wearable items has taken several steps of miniaturization from discrete electronics over hybrid designs to fully integrated designs, where just one processor chip, a battery and some interface conditioning items make the whole unit. Depending on how broadly one defines both wearable and computer, the first wearable computer could be as early as the first abacus on a string, or, later, a 16th century pocket watch. However common understanding is computer as a user-programmable item for complex algorithms, interfacing and data management. In 1961 mathematician Edward O. Thorp, best known as “The father of wearable computer and Claude Shannon built the world’s first wearable computer, a computerized timing card-counting device for blackjack.

The system was a concealed cigarette-pack sized analog computer designed to predict roulette wheels. A data-taker would use microswitches hidden in his shoes to indicate the speed of the roulette wheel, and the computer would indicate an octant to bet on by sending musical tones via radio to a miniature speaker hidden in a collaborators ear canal. The system was successfully tested in Las Vegas in June 1961, but hardware issues with the speaker wires prevented them from using it beyond their test runs. This was not a wearable computer in the sense that it could not be programmed by the user during use, i.e. it was an example of task-specific hardware. This work was kept secret until it was first mentioned in Thorp’s book Beat the Dealer in 1966 and later published in detail in 1969. The 1970s saw rise to similar special purpose hardware timing devices, etc., such as roulette-prediction devices using next-generation technology, in particular a group known as Eudaemonic Enterprises that used a CMOS 6502 microprocessor with 5K RAM to create a shoe-computer with inductive radio communications between a data-taker and better. Another early wearable system was a camera-to-tactile vest for the blind, published by C.C. Collins in 1977, that converted images into a 1024-point, 10-inch square tactile grid on a vest. On the consumer end, 1977 also saw the introduction of the HP-01 algebraic calculator watch by Hewlett-Packard. The 1980s saw the rise of more general-purpose wearable computers that fit the modern definition of “computer” by going beyond task-specific hardware to more general-purpose (e.g. reprogrammable by the user) devices.

In 1981 Steve Mann designed and built a backpack-mounted 6502-based wearable multimedia computer with text, graphics, and multimedia capability, as well as video capability (cameras and other photographic systems). Mann went on to be an early and active researcher in the wearables field, especially known for his 1994 creation of the Wearable Wireless Webcam. Though perhaps not technically “wearable,” in 1986 Steve Roberts built Winnebiko-II, a recumbent bicycle with on-board computer and chorded keyboard. Winnebiko II was the first of Steve Roberts’ forays into nomadic computing that allowed him to type while riding. Datalink USB Dress edition with Invasion video game. The watch crown (icontrol) can be used to move the defender left to right and the fire control is the Start/Split button on the lower side of the face of the watch at 6 o’ clock. In 1989 Reflection Technology marketed the Private Eye head-mounted display, which scanned a vertical array of LEDs across the visual field using a vibrating mirror. This display gave rise to several hobbyist and research wearables, including Gerald “Chip” Maguire’s IBM / Columbia University Student Electronic Notebook, Doug Platt’s Hip-PC and Carnegie Mellon University’s VuMan 1 in 1991.  The Student Electronic Notebook consisted of the Private Eye, Toshiba diskless AIX notebook computers (prototypes) and a stylus based input system plus virtual keyboard, and used direct-sequence spread spectrum radio links to provide all the usual TCP/IP based services, including NFS mounted file systems and X11, all running in the Andrew Project environment.

The Hip-PC included an Agenda palmtop used as a chording keyboard attached to the belt and a 1.44 megabyte floppy drive. Later versions incorporated additional equipment from Park Engineering. The system debuted at “The Lap and Palmtop Expo” on 16 April 1991. VuMan 1 was developed as part of a Summer-term course at |Carnegie Mellon’s Engineering Design Research Center, and was intended for viewing house blueprints. Input was through a three-button unit worn on the belt, and output was through Reflection Tech’s Private Eye. The CPU was an 8 MHz 80188 processor with 0.5 MB ROM. In 1993 the Private Eye was used in Thad Starner’s wearable, based on Doug Platt’s system and built from a kit from Park Enterprises, a Private Eye display on loan from Devon Sean McCullough, and the Twiddler chording keyboard made by Handykey. Many iterations later this system became the MIT “Tin Lizzy” wearable computer design, and Starner went on to become one of the founders of MIT’s wearable computing project. 1993 also saw Columbia University’s augmented-reality system known as KARMA: Knowledge-based Augmented Reality for Maintenance Assistance. Users would wear a Private Eye display over one 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 computer. In 1994 Edgar Matias and Mike Ruicci of the University of Toronto, debuted the “wrist computer.” Their system presented an alternative approach to the emerging head-up display plus 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 the half-keyboard “belt computer. Also in 1994, Mik Lamming and Mike Flynn at Xerox EuroPARC demonstrated the Forget-Me-Not, 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?”

As with the Toronto system, Forget-Me-Not was not based on a head-mounted display. Also in 1994, DARPA started the Smart Modules Program to develop a modular, humionic approach to wearable and carryable computers, with the goal of producing a variety of products including computers, radios, navigation systems and human-computer interfaces that have both military and commercial use. In July 1996 DARPA went on to host the “Wearables in 2005″ workshop, bringing together industrial, university and military visionaries to work on the common theme of delivering computing to the individual.  A follow-up conference was hosted by Boeing in August 1996, where plans were finalized to create a new academic conference on wearable computing. In October 1997, Carnegie Mellon University, MIT, and Georgia Tech co-hosted the IEEE International Symposium on Wearables Computers (ISWC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The symposium was a full academic conference with published proceedings and papers ranging from sensors and new hardware to new applications for wearable computers, with 382 people registered for the event. In 2002, as part of Kevin Warwick’s Project Cyborg, Warwick’s wife, Irena, wore a necklace which was electronically linked to Warwick’s nervous system via an implanted electrode array. The color of the necklace changed between red and blue dependent on the signals on Warwick’s nervous system.

Dr. Bruce H Thomas and Dr. Wayne Piekarski developed the Tinmith wearable computer system to support augmented reality. This work was first published internationally in 2000 in the ISWC conference. The worked was carried out of the Wearable Computer Lab at the University of South Australia. The current moves in standardization with IEEE, IETF and several industry groups (e.g. Bluetooth) leads to more various interfacing under the WPAN (wireless personal area network) and the WBAN (Wireless body area network) offer new classification of designs for interfacing and networking. Also, the 6th-generation iPod Nano has a wristwatch attachment available to convert it to a wearable wristwatch computer. The developments of wearable computing now encompasses Rehabilitation Engineering,Ambulatory intervention treatment, life guard systems, Defense wearable systems, and Event based wearable etc.

 

Sony is now selling an Android compatible wrist watch called Sony SmartWatch. It must be paired with an Android phone as an additional, remote display and notification tool. ( www.sonymobile.com/us/products/accessories/smartwatch ) The commercialization of general-purpose wearable computers, as led by companies such as Xybernaut, CDI and ViA Inc, has thus far met with limited success. Publicly traded Xybernaut tried forging alliances with companies such as IBM and Sony in order to make wearable computing widely available, but in 2005 their stock was delisted and the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid financial scandal and federal investigation. Xybernaut emerged from bankruptcy protection in January, 2007. ViA, Inc. filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and subsequently ceased operations. 1998 Seiko marketed the Ruputer, a computer in a (fairly large) wristwatch, to mediocre returns. In 2001 IBM developed and publicly displayed two prototypes for a wristwatch computer running Linux. The last message about them dates to 2004, saying the device would cost about $250 but it is still under development. In 2002 Fossil, Inc. announced the Fossil Wrist PDA, which ran the Palm OS. Its release date was set for summer of 2003, but was delayed several times and was finally made available on 5 January 2005. Timex Datalink is another example of a practical wearable computer. Hitachi launched a wearable computer called Poma in 2002.

 

Eurotech offers the ZYPAD, a wrist wearable touch screen computer with GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and which can run a number of custom applications. Evidence of the allure of the wearable computer and the weak market acceptance is evident with market leading Panasonic Computer Solutions Company’s failed product in this market. Panasonic has specialized in mobile computing with their Toughbook line for over 10 years and has extensive market research into the field of portable, wearable computing products. In 2002, Panasonic introduced a wearable brick computer coupled with a handheld or armworn touchscreen.

The brick would communicate wirelessly to the screen, and concurrently the brick would communicate wirelessly out to the internet or other networks. The wearable brick was quietly pulled from the market in 2005, while the screen evolved to a thin client touchscreen used with a handstrap. (The “Brick” Computer is the CF-07 Toughbook, dual batteries, screen used same batteries as the base, 800 x 600 resolution, optional GPS and WWAN. Has one M-PCI slot and one PCMCIA slot for expansion. CPU used is a 600 mhz Pentium 3 factory under clocked to 300 mhz so it can stay cool passively as it has no fan. Micro dim ram is upgradable. The screen can be used wirelessly on other computers.)

 

Google has announced that it has been working on a wearable optical device. Let’s see what the future will bring us . Howaver, we can admit that the most involved person in this kind of technology was Steve Mann. Also called “The father of wearable computing “.

Born in Hamilton, Ontario, is a tenured professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, with cross-appointments to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Faculty of Forestry, at the University of Toronto. Mann holds degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (PhD in Media Arts and Sciences ’97) and McMaster University. While at MIT, in then Director Nicholas Negroponte’s words he “brought the seed” that founded the Wearable Computing group in the Media Lab. In 2004 he was named the recipient of the 2004 Leonardo Award for Excellence for his article “Existential Technology,” published in Leonardo. Many of Mann’s inventions pertain to the field of computational photography. Mann was the first to propose and reduce to practice a signal representation based on a family of chirp signals, each associated with a coefficient, in a generalization of the wavelet transform that is now referred to as the chirplet transform. Mann was the first to produce an algorithm for automatically combining multiple pictures of the same subject matter, using algebraic projective geometry, to “stitch together” images using automatically estimated perspective correction.

This is called the “Video Orbits” algorithm. Mann was the first to propose and implement an algorithm to estimate a camera’s response function from a plurality of differently exposed images of the same subject matter. He was also the first to propose and implement an algorithm to automatically extend dynamic range in an image by combining multiple differently exposed pictures of the same subject matter. This work has been built-upon by others, and also forms the basis for a new way of understanding electrical engineering, based on using the electrical analog of absement as the base unit. Mann invented an experimental musical instrument that uses pressurized hydraulic fluid, such as water, to make sound. The instrument is played by placing the fingers in direct contact with the sound-producing hydraulic fluid, thus giving the musician a high degree of control over the musical expression in the sound. Telepointer, a wearable computer based on a pendant that contains a webcam and laser-based infinite depth-of-focus projector. Mann also works in the fields of computer-mediated reality. He is a strong advocate of privacy rights, for which work he was an award recipient of the Chalmers Foundation in the fine arts. His work also extends to the area of sousveillance (a term he coined for “inverse surveillance”).

Mann and one of his PhD students, James Fung, together with some of his other students, have been building a cyborg community around the cyborg-logging concept. Mann, together with Professor Ian Kerr at the University of Ottawa, have written extensively on surveillance, sousveillance, and equiveillance. “Sousveillance”, a term coined by Mann, along with the concepts that he and Kerr have developed around these ideas, have created a new dialog for cyborg technologies, as well as related personal information gathering technologies like camera phones. He has created the related concept of Humanistic Intelligence. Joi Ito, a leading researcher in moblogging, credits Mann with having initiated the moblogging movement by creating a system for transmission of realtime pictures, video, and text. In particular, from 1994 to 1996, Mann continuously transmitted his life’s experiences, in real time, to his website for others to experience, interact with, and respond to His CyborGLOGS (‘glogs), such as the spontaneous reporting of news as everyday experience, were an early predecessor of ‘blogs and the concept of blogging, and earlier than that, his pre-internet-era live streaming of personal documentary and cyborg communities defined cyborg-logging as a new form of social networking.

Mann describes himself as the “father of wearable computing” but the world’s first wearable computer was created in 1961 by Edward O. Thorp, known as the father of wearable computers. Mann has also described himself as “the world’s first cyborg” in Canadian popular press such as NOW, The Globe and Mail, National Post, and Toronto Life but has himself rejected the term “cyborg” as being too vague. While he describes himself as the founder of the field of wearable computing based on his early work in personal imaging, there is controversy surrounding the exact definition of wearable computing, and whether any one person can be considered to have invented it. For example, wearable computer imaging systems were described by Vannevar Bush in his essay “As We May Think” in the Atlantic Monthly in July 1945 and wearable devices for timing the trajectory of the balls on a roulette table were built and used by Ed Thorp and Claude Shannon in 1961. Mann is presently collaborating with a number of researchers including Ian Kerr, Canada Research Chair in Ethics, Law & Technology, University of Ottawa, who teaches a course on “Cyborg Law” that uses Mann’s book. Mann, together with Kerr and others, are doing a SSHRC-funded project to study the Ethics, Law & Technology of anonymity, authentication, surveillance, and sousveillance, in addition to issues related to cyborg-law. The anonequity project is ongoing, and collaborator Kerr has also researched and lectured widely on implantable technologies.

On July 17 2012, Mann claimed that on July 1st 2012 he and his family were eating dinner at BFI Champs Elysées, a McDonald’s restaurant in Paris, France when three employees allegedly assaulted Mann, apparently objecting to his wearing of a type of digital glasses, known as the EyeTap Digital Eye Glass. He claimed he was roughed up and tossed out of the restaurant and that the employees destroyed medical documentation that he had presented to them to explain his reason for wearing the device. Due to the employees alleged rough handling of the device, which he claimed was soundly attached to his head, photos of these persons were stored in the glasses memory and published, with faces concealed, on a blog. He also claims that his iPhone and the control board for the EyeTap were damaged after he was thrown out and his bladder released involuntarily, soaking the contents of his pockets. On July 18th, Mann’s alleged assault was denied by McDonalds. “I wear a computer vision system, and carry a letter from my family physician, as well as documentation on this system when I travel.  I have worn a computer vision system of some kind for 34 years, and am the inventor of the technology that I wear and use in my day-to-day life.  Although it has varied over the last 34 years, I have worn the present embodiment of this system for 13 years. This simple design which I did in collaboration with designer Chris Aimone, consists of a sleek strip of aluminum that runs across the forehead, with two silicone nose pads.

It holds an EyeTap device (computer-controlled laser light source that causes the eye itself to function as if it were both a camera and display, in effect) in front of my right eye. It also gives the wearer the appearance of having a “glass eye”, this phenomenon being known as the “glass eye” effect. Over the years the EyeTap has also therefore been known as the “Glass Eye” or “Eye Glass”, or “Digital Eye Glass”, using the word “Glass” in its singular form, rather than its plural form “Glasses” Recent news has described me as “the father of wearable computing” in the context of various commercially manufactured versions of similar eye glass, such as those made by companies like Google, Olympus, and the like, so as this technology becomes mainstream, McDonald’s might need to get used to it. I originally created this technology, and the computer vision algorithms (e.g. HDR = High Dynamic Range), to help people see better. I have also assisted a number of blind and visually impaired (partially sighted) persons with various projects, and I continue to conduct research in this area. I was also part of the team that invented, designed, and built rehabilitation technology for the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, and this technology continues to be used by the CNIB”. For more information or to get in touch with Steve, just visit his blog at www.eyetap.blogspot.it )