Wearable Computers

Here’s my prediction of what a modern wearable computer will be, just for the sake of having it out there with a time stamp attached. Why am I saying this? Because it’s Sunday morning, I am really tired, and I was looking at funny computer patents, courtesy Technologizer.

Modern wearable computers will not be dedicated computers at all, in the sense that laptop or desktop is just a computer. Instead, wearable computing will become an extension of the far more agile smartphone market. The market will need four technologies: wireless video transmission, wireless data transmission, heads up displays and eye tracking. All four of these technologies exist today.

Going backwards in the list, Eye tracking (Wikipedia), simply involves knowing the position of the eyes in relation to the head. This will allow your eye to act like a cursor on a screen, whereby simply looking at a button allows you to select it. Of course, there are some nice-ities that need to still be ironed out, such as blink-clicking and whatnot, but that’s for the HCI experts to resolve, which they will.

Heads-Up Displays (HUD’s) are old news. The US Air Force has been putting HUD’s in jet fighters for ages, and even groups such as BMW and the Army use the technology for some of their more advanced augmented-reality units. The technology is a simple concept: allow an image to be semi-transparently displayed on a transparent surface so that the user may see both the display and what is beyond the display. Check.

Wireless data transmission: it’s called Bluetooth. We have it. We can improve upon it. We have been doing wireless data for decades. That’s old news.

And finally, wireless video. Here is the real trick, and the most critical component, because nobody likes wires, especially in devices that are meant to be used casually throughout the course of a day in a mobile environment. Sure we can transform the video into a data signal and send it over Bluetooth, but that’s an extra software layer and I am not convinced it would allow the responsiveness required for the eye tracking and interaction. Thankfully, at the beginning of this year, Intel announced their Wi-Di wireless video transmission. Now we just need to shrink it. That’ll take about 5 years, tops.

Put it all together and what do we have? We have a pair of stylish Oakley sunglasses with embedded miniature cameras for eye tracking, and miniature HUD’s on the lenses as well as data and video transceivers, also miniature. Throw a new chip into existing smartphones, a couple applications and slight interface redesigns, and there you have it.

Will it necessarily be the smartphone market that drives this development? Most likely not. It will most likely be a multi-fronted assault on incorporating these technologies into everyday activities such as driving, smartphone use, and even a commoditization of the augmented reality devices mentioned above in use by big industry and the military. All I know is that the next 5 years will be a good time for HCI-nerds looking for jobs.

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