In this essay we give a brief overview in the field of wearable computers. Wearable computers can describe a wide range of devices. There are many reasons for researching and developing wearable computer systems. The main reason is that it might improve our everyday life, either in helping us do common things more efficiently or extend our cognitive abilities. Wearable computer systems today are mainly prototypes that mimic laptops, PDA’s and cellular phones, and before anything else can be done some challenges have to be overcome. Issues like power use, heat dissipation, networking, and privacy has to be resolved. The problems that wearable computers are being developed to solve are not very well defined, but the problems that have been addressed by researchers in this field are memory augmentation, sensory augmentation and a new kind of connectivity not yet seen today. How this technology will affect society is an open question, some see it as a strictly positive development while others fear it will deprive us of some of the most important qualities of life. We feel that we are still in an early stage of wearable computing, and predicting the future is hard. But we are confident that wearable computing will impact our everyday life.
What is Wearable Computers 4
Why Wearable Computers 5
A Complete System 6
Power Use 7
Heat Dissipation 7
Augmented Reality 10
Impact on Everyday Life 12
The Problems Wearables will Solve 13
Interpreting the Environment 13
Sensory Augmentation 14
Memory Augmentation 15
Impact on Society 17
Conclusion and Authors Opinions 18
As computer hardware continue to shrink in size and increase in capability, a new way of portability is opening. The trend has lead from mainframes to minicomputers to desktop computers to laptops. It is now almost possible for an individual to wear a computer device as easily as one does a hat or a jacket. It is clear that these technologies will enable us to ultimately extend the desktop resources to almost anywhere we travel. More importantly, this constant access, augmented by a battery of body-mounted sensors, will enable our computers to be sensitive to the activities in which we are engaged, and thus allow the computer to participate in a collaborative and active manner as we perform our tasks. Realizing this dream requires the synthesis of many areas of computer science, computer engineering, and psychology.
Wearable computing is an effort to make computers truly part of our everyday lives by embedding them into our clothing (e.g. shoes) or by creating form factors that can be used like clothing (e.g. sunglasses). This level of access to computation will revolutionize how computers are used. While the computational hardware has been reduced in size to accommodate this vision there are still many challenges that has to be overcome before we can enjoy the concept of wearable computing.
In this essay we will give an introduction to wearable computing, first by defining what it is and why it exists, and further describe the current situation and what we can anticipate in the future. But the main focus will be on the impact wearable computing will have on people as individuals and society in general, and we do not intend to give a detailed description on the technology.
We have gathered the material for this essay by conducting a litterateur study. Some of the sources are books that we have loaned from the public library in Umeå, and some is publications from the digital library ACM (ACM 2002). We have also searched the Internet for relevant material and we have referenced the sources in the cases where we have used text or images from the Internet. The criteria’s for our search in the litterateur has mainly been that the topic of the text is on wearable computing. We have ignored texts that deal with some other topic and only touches wearable computing, mainly to narrow down the material and in hope that we will get the most relevant information in this manner.
What is Wearable Computers
What is a wearable computer? About ten years ago the answer to this question would probably be something in style with “a computer that you wear in your belt, equipped with a head mounted display and a one-handed keyboard”. However it became necessary to distinguish wearable computers from laptops and PDA’s in attempt to explain the conceptual difference in the interface. Today wearable computers are somewhat hard to define since it can describe a broad range of devices and concepts. The term is used in different contexts with different meaning. As an illustration to this problem lets see some examples of how different authors define wearable computers:
“provide portability during operations; enable hands-free or hands-limited use; can attract the user’s attention, even when not in active use; can run continuously; and attempt to sense the user’s current context.” - Rhodes “constant and always ready, unrestrictive, not monopolizing of user attention, observable and controllable by the user, attentive to the environment, useful as a communication tool, and personal.” - Mann “fully functional, self-powered, self-contained computer that is worn on the body. As noted earlier , a wearable computer provides access to information, and interaction with information, anywhere and anytime.” – Barfield & Caudell These definitions have some common criteria’s and some that are unique. For instance both Rhodes and Mann demands that the wearable computer is more or less unrestrictive and only Barfield and Caudell demands that it is self-powered. We think its safe to say that these definitions are in a meaning the ideal that we should try to achieve when researching and developing wearable computer systems. But in general wearable computer systems can be thought of as personal information devices (Barfield & Caudell, 2001).
We intend to use a looser definition then the ones mentioned so far for the simple reason that we wish to cover a wider range of systems. We will define wearables as: “A computer that is worn on the body.”
In today’s life there are a lot of different accessories that use some form of hardware. A businessman might use a digital assistant (PDA) for his schedule, a cellular telephone for communication, a pager for meetings, a laptop computer for processing documents, a calculator for calculations etc, the list can grow even longer. The hardware in these devices contain similar components, e.g.; a microprocessor, memory, battery, keyboard, screen etc.
Wearable computers could combine all of the above with many benefits. The devices could share the hardware components mentioned above, and in such gain in size and weight, power, cost and so forth. The problems that can arise from this are mainly difficulties to apply one interface to fit all, and not loose functionality or efficiency.
One way to achieve this is by having one central computer, imagine one the size a deck of cards that contains a powerful CPU and a storage device. This wearable could then connect trough a wireless network to different peripherals in the near radius of the wearer. And by choosing different peripherals the user defines the functionality of the wearable computer. For example by adding wireless earphones this allows the computer to function as a MP3-player that plays songs stored in the hard drive of the wearable computer. With a connection to the Internet it can function as an e-mail reader or a Web browser. With this wireless body-entered network one can reduce component redundancy. (Starner 2001 page 47)
Wearables can also augment and extend the capabilities of the wearer while preserving personal privacy and functioning over a wide range of situations and contexts. Wearable computing provides a means to leverage the power of personal information while at the same time providing the means to keep it private. Wearables consolidate the functionality of multiple devices into a single, integrated system.
The wearable computer systems that exist today are mainly prototypes made in educational and research purpose. The tasks performed by these systems are mainly trying to fuse the tasks laptops, PDA’s and cellular phones are doing today. This will probably change as the technology evolves and more complex tasks will arise. In this section we will discuss some technological issues, both current and future.
As mentioned earlier a wearable computer could be composed of very different components. But common for all would be some sort of CPU and storage device. Without these elements it wouldn’t pass under the definition of a computer. Other components are more or less optional. However in most cases the user would like to have some form of input and output.
For input many systems use a one-handed keyboard, which can be operated almost as quickly and efficiently as an ordinary keyboard with training. Other options for input could be a microphone for speech recognition or a camera for gesture recognition. There is an example of gesture recognition where a camera is installed in a pendant. This camera can recognize hand-movements, and for instance when you point your index finger up, it could be interpreted to raise the volume in your earphones. Progress is also made in speech recognition where programs get increasingly better. In the future there will probably be many other forms of input coming from different sensors. When the wearable will try to determine the users context there might be one sensor that reads the users pulse, one that reads the current movement of the users legs, one that reads tries to determine the surrounding environment etc.
As visual feedback some form of head mounted display (HMD) is often used. The size and resolution of the HMD’s vary much depending on prize. The smallest HMD’s today can be embedded in a pair of ordinary eyeglasses. The actual display is in this case located in an earpiece and an optical path deflects the image trough the lens to a half-silvered mirror that reflects the image to the user’s eye. Different techniques can be used when implementing this type of display, which we will discuss further later. Earphones are also often used for audio feedback, when this is preferable. Something that is more moderately used is tactic feedback, but this might change in the future. In some medical experiments devices have actually sent feedback directly to the human nervous system, and we will explore this further later on.
A Complete System
Lizzy is a wearable computing system, which has been developed at MIT. MIT has published the instructions for constructing this system, which include what hardware to use and where to get it, and some example of prizing. The instructions also describe in detail how to put the system together. (Lizzy 2002)
As mentioned earlier the wearable computers today are prototypes that mainly tries to mimic what today’s PDA’s, laptops and cellular phones accomplish. Before we can do anything else or even do this successfully there are some problems that has to be solved. Thad Starner sees some significant challenges that must be overcome in order to provide wearable computers. Many of them are inherited from the general computing community, but wearables are an extreme in the sense that there haven’t been any thorough studies in the trade-offs concerning design issues. Starner also presents suggestions to approaches to these challenges, in addition to point out the problems. (Starner 2001)
Power use might be one of the most limiting factors in mobile technology. When designing a device today one must first decide factors like cost, size and weight of the battery, before designing functionality or packaging. The problem becomes even more obvious when the system has to deal with peripheral devices that all demand their own power source. This can be illustrated if you imagine a system consisting of a display implemented in a pair of glasses, the CPU and storage device in a belt buckle, and earphones in each ear.
Solutions to this problem could be small batteries with long lifetime, like the plutonium-238 battery used in pacemakers that could last for decades. However, this presents a political problem, weather its correct to use materials like plutonium for batteries. Another way would be rechargeable batteries but the problem is if you forget to charge them, and in wearable computing it’s critical that you never loose access to your computer. Yet another approach is to use body motion to recharge the batteries. This could be by done by putting piezoelectric elements in your shoes. One of the more interesting solutions is recharging the batteries trough radio transmissions. Imagine a wireless networking system in which radio transmissions from an on-body base unit provide power. This base could then be recharged in the same manner. The biggest problem with this approach is that the antenna might make the device inconvenient to wear.
This problem follows from the problem with power use. This problem could be bigger then it appears at first, considering that an ordinary desktop processor can consume as much as 100 Watt of power. Using such a processor in a pocket device would create the equivalent of wearing several high-power soldering irons. The temperature of a near-body device should not exceed 40oC, and using a desktop processor is extremely difficult in small design.
One way to minimize the problem is to exploit the fact that the user moves. The arms pendulum-like movements create airflows that significantly could improve the heat dissipation of an arm-mounted computer. Devices could also contain some form of liquid that sets in motion when the user moves that could help in heat dissipation. Another idea exploits the fact that the computer is so close to the user that in some situations it could dissipate heat to the users body. This could be the case in the winter where the user probably would appreciate the added heat. Yet another idea is to use a phase changing material. Such materials can absorb a tremendous amount of heat while they maintain the same temperature as they transition form solid-to-liquid or liquid-to-gaseous phases. Research is conducted to find materials that have these properties. The problems with heat dissipation could also be minimized in software. Jobs could be batched and delayed until the environment is cooler, but this would affect performance.
A wearable computer could use three types of network at the same time, all with different problems. Off-body communications, that is communication with objects in the environment, is the most thoroughly researched of them. The technology used for this is often the same as cellular phones use, e.g. Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). The main problem with this is that the user will always face situations where he won’t bee in range of a network cell. All though satellite communication addresses this problem there will be locations that wont be profitable to cover.
Communicating with near-body objects (i.e., objects in the near environment) offers other problems. The main problem with this form of communication is that the standards that exist today assume that the device has access to a significant energy supply. There are alternatives that don’t have this problem. By using radio frequency identification (RFID) tags and tag readers. This tags use electronic fields as power source and in such don’t need an own power source. Starner describes how this can be applied in near-body communication for an positioning system (Starner 2001).
On-body communication propose yet another problem. Energy use becomes critical since each device must have its own energy supply. This is a current challenge for the Bluetooth and IEEE 802.15 communities. One way to approach this problem is using a system that requires very little power to communicate, and BodyLAN is an experimental system that achieves this. However this affects bandwidth but it could be used in situations where bandwidth is of little importance. A system like the BodyLAN could last for one year on one charge. Privacy becomes an issue when communication between different on-body devices occurs. The user want to be sure that no one else can access his devices or “ease-drop”. By saying that the device has to touch the users body it is possible to only let devices that belong to the user to get access to this kind of information.
“Those who design systems which handle personal information therefore have a special duty: They must not design systems which unnecessarily require, induce, persuade, or coerce individuals into giving up personal privacy in order to avail themselves of the benefit of the system being designed.” - Foner These words could be applied wearable computing, maybe with more reason than other systems since wearable computers might store people’s most intimate information. And before people will use wearable computers, even if it offers many benefits in the every day life, this issue has to be resolved in one way or another. In short there are five ways to protect the privacy of a user.
Physical, you wear the hardware on your body.
Technological, encryptions, and biometric identifiers (e.g., fingerprint)
Legislative, laws could protect private information and intimidate abuse.
Social, building systems that looks like a wallet, which is seen as something personal.
Obscuring, hide important data among quantities of nonsensitive information.
We will cover this subject in more detail in the section concerning the impact of wearable computers on society, since this always will be a concern.
Augmented reality can be seen as an advanced human-computer interface technology that attempts to blend or fuse computer-generated information with our sensations of the natural world. For a wearable computer to communicate with its user, augmented reality is often seen as a viable media. AR is the merging of the information of the real world with artificial sensory information generated by a computer. Other areas were AR is being deployed is medical visualization, maintenance and repair, entertainment and military aircraft navigation and targeting.
AR does not only have the ability of adding objects to the scene, it also has the possibility to remove unwanted objects by covering them. The simplest way of doing this is by painting a colored polygon on top of the item, but ideally the software should be able to generate an overlaying image that one cannot distinguish from the real world. If wearable computers are to mediate reality, this would be a useful feature.
Even though the research in AR has mostly handled visual information, it can be applied to other senses as well. With 3D positioned sound in headphones blended with real sound captured by microphones one can add or filter out sounds to ones liking. The same can be done for smell and to some extent tactile information.
There are two ways of achieving a visual augmented reality; optical and video. Optical see-through HMD’s work by placing partially transmissive optical combiners in front of the users eyes. The user can then see the real world through the combiners, and head mounted monitors supplies the combiners with artificial images. A disadvantage of this technique is that the combiners always filter out a certain amount of light from the real world.
Video see-through HMD’s on the other hand make use of a closed view HMD and two head mounted cameras. The cameras view and the computer-generated objects are then put together and projected in the users HMD. When designing an interface for a wearable computer there are several reasons why video-based systems are not the way to go. Firstly, since the wearable is supposed to be used at all times limitations in resolution of the real world would be very tiresome. Secondly, since they are closed-view HMD’s there are issues concerning safety, if the user is driving a car with his wearable and the power dies he is left completely blind. Lastly, there is the problem with eye offset, the cameras cannot be located where the users eyes are. If the cameras are placed on the users head he sees the world from a slightly higher viewpoint than he is used to, and if the distance between the cameras are not the same as the users interpupillary distance he may have trouble with orientation and experience nausea.
The field of augmented reality is years behind compared to virtual reality, there are today several commercial virtual reality systems, but no vendor sells a complete HMD based augmented reality set. AR systems are usually found in the academic world. Still, the concept is interesting and research is being made in the field. If the problems surrounding the merging of the real with the artificial are solved, it may be an important concept in the wearable computers of the future. (Barfield 2001)
Cybernetics could be described as computers under the skin. All though this might seem like something that lays far away in the future this might not be the case. Developments in microelectronics, sensor technology, and medicine, it is actually possible to apply computing resources under the surface of the ski and in some cases to integrate digital technology with the user’s physiological systems. There have already been major developments in that relate to place computational resources under the skin, e.g. pacemakers. If Moore’s Law continues to prevail (i.e., that computing power doubles every 18 months), there will be advances in human-computer interfacing that there is no way to foresee. One important drive force in cybernetics is off course the medical field, but there will surely be numerous non-medical applications in the future. One area where cybernetics really have made a breakthrough is in marking pets. A microchip that bears a unique identification number is implanted under the skin between the shoulder blades on the animal. A lost animal can then be identified by a veterinarian who can contact the owners. (Barfield & Caudell 2001)
Impact on Everyday Life
Current portable computers and PDA’s fail to truly become integrated in out daily lives in the sense that we need to stop what we are doing and make a conscious effort to use them. With wearable computers, this will not be the case. The impact of this technological leap will have great significance in how we go about our daily business, professionally as well as personally. Just how life will change with the advance of this new computing paradigm is still very much a domain of speculation.
Although the history of computer technology is riddled with many examples of technology in search of a human need, there are few people (at least computer scientists) who do not recognize a need for wearable computing in everyday life, but what that need may be is not a trivial matter, or perhaps wearable computers will help us in so many ways it is hard to pinpoint the area of usefulness.
Computer use follows technological possibilities. To prepare for future technologies researchers try to stretch time forward with money to test paradigms before they are affordable. Researchers who were trying to get a head start in the late 1960s and early 1970s built extremely expensive bitmap displays to explore new types of interactions. The GUI was invented this way at MIT and Xerox. But it still seems the best scenarios get worked out after the technology becomes affordable and accessible, who would have thought Apples 5Gb iPod mp3 player would be used to pirate software from showcase computers. Neither was the value of being able to read or respond to email any place any time, whether connected to a network or offline, appreciated before people got mobile desktops.
When envisioning future technology physical form is the first thing that comes to mind for most people, from the early 1960s people envisioned portable briefcase. But the idea of what that computer would be used for probably differs from the way today’s portable computers are being used. (Selker 1996)
In the same way, it is very unlikely that we today know how wearable computers will affect our everyday lives in the future. The physical shape of a wearable computers is somewhat established, it is usually part of their definition, but the practical uses can only be known when they are accessible to the public.
One thing is sure however, people will expect them to be able to fulfill the functions of today’s PDA’s, laptops and cellular phones. This is what the prototypes of today are trying to live up to; sending and receiving emails, communicating with other users and being capable of running some programs, word processing for example. All this has to be done in a way that draws as little attentions as possible from the users actions in the physical world.
The researchers in the field of wearable computers tend to set their aim a bit higher than that, though. A key issue in wearable computing is that of contextual awareness. In order for wearable computers to become a truly life altering technology they need to share the same perceptual environment as us. They need to be situated in the same world as we are, this implies that computers become more aware of the physical world and also that humans become more at home in the virtual world. For a machine, knowledge of the physical world is a complicated matter, and to make things worse wearable computers also need to have understanding of their users, they need to know who we are, and learn our preferences and habits. The need would arise for filtering agents who know the users likes and dislikes, remembrance agents to know what the user has seen and heard, and negotiating agents who need to know the users goals and values. (Pentland 1998)
This sort of machines would indeed be a more than easily accessible PDA/laptop/cell phone, and the impact on how we go about our lives from a day-to-day point of view would be enormous. But we still need to define the problem wearables will solve.
The Problems Wearables will Solve
The advent of the personal computer brought computers closer to us, from the distant mainframes in computer rooms right to our desks. However, computing was still only accessible when we're sitting at our desks, and not part of personal day-to-day life.
Later, portable computing made it possible to carry this environment with us in our briefcase or in our pockets. But as already stated, we need to stop whatever we are doing to have access to computing.
Other devices we often carry with us such as cellular phones, watches, calculators, camcorders and personal sound systems duplicate much of the same functionalities many times over, and they do not communicate with each other. It would be less cumbersome to have one single item that performs all the tasks of the technological devices we carry. (Mann 1997)
In the future, we may see the development of smart spaces. Smart spaces are areas equipped with computing, as well as cameras, microforms and other forms of perceptual intelligence during all facets of our daily lives. In a smart space, one can assume the need for a wearable computer (if there is such a need) would not be as great.
There are two problems with smart spaces: (1) Not all environments will ever be so equipped, and if they are there is no guarantee the systems would be of direct benefit to us. The possibility of giving the network of smart spaces the same knowledge about us as we'd give a wearable computer may be a larger breach in personal integrity than many people would allow. (2) The organizations of the infrasystem may put their own needs before those of the individual. The prospect of constant surveillance and a constant channel for communicating with the individual would no doubt be attractive to many organizations, and the many other purposes (besides helping the users of the space) suggests we may not want to live in a world where our every movement is being monitored.
Interpreting the Environment
A classical example where wearable computers can be used is the problem of way finding. Imagine a hungry wearable computer user, who wants to eat some fast food. The wearable computer already knows that the user likes fast food on days like these. The wearable computer may also know that the user doesn’t like global corporations, that he wants to eat at a restaurant where he can have a cup of coffee after his meal and all sorts of information about the users fast food habits. If the user feels he has more important things to do than choosing today’s fast food restaurant, he can let his wearable computer make this decision for him. The wearable then displays the shortest way to the selected restaurant and various information such as distance and estimated traveling time. (Pyssysalo 2000)
Way finding is a not an advanced thing to do for a computer, if the computer has correct maps and some information about road constructions and traffic stockings. When performed by a human being it takes a lot of attention and conscious activity, especially in an unfamiliar place. In big cities (unfamiliar to everyone), a lot of time is spent finding the way to specific locations. But even in a familiar place the path from one point to another isn’t obvious, usually we settle for the path that is “short enough”, and it rarely makes much difference.
There are more important issues than saving time though. Today more people than ever suffer from severe visual impairment. This is the result of both an increase in average age of the population, as well as an increase in the prevalence of diabetes and macular degeneration. Maintaining spatial orientation is a major challenge for people with severe visual impairment. Spatial orientation differs distinctly from mobility, mobility depends on skillfully coordinating actions to avoid obstacles in the immediate area, whereas spatial orientation depends on the ability to coordinate ones actions to the further ranging surroundings and the desired destination.
In order to achieve spatial orientation one must establish and maintain awareness of ones position relative to landmarks in the surrounding environment and the destination. In way finding one must employ spatial orientation to maintain a heading towards the destination regardless of the immediate obstacles.
Avoiding obstacles is possible for blind pedestrians; with proper training the pedestrian can learn to use non-visual environmental feedback to avoid obstacles. Hearing is an important sense for acquiring information about the environment. Not only obstacles making sounds can be detected this way, many blind people learn to listen to the echoes of their own footsteps to detect walls in the surrounding environment. The ability to detect heat and smells are also important, the temperature change when walking into the shade in a familiar environment can be of great help for blind pedestrians.
Even though these techniques can be successfully applied for independent movement, blind people are still limited in way finding. One problem is that of veering, even if the individual is initially oriented to the environment, starts out in the direction of his destination and encounters no obstacles; problems with veering makes it necessary to reorient often. Even highly experienced blind pedestrians exhibit veering errors of such magnitude they may veer into a parallel street when crossing at an unknown intersection.
Wearable computer would no doubt be of great assistance to visually impaired pedestrians, a context aware computer would be able to fill in information not available to a person lacking a visual sense. But how to present the information to the user is a problem that calls for some attention. The most obvious possible interfaces for veering correction would provide feedback through sound or some form of physical feedback.
David A. Ross and Bruce B. Blasch at the Atlanta VA Rehab R&D Center have tested these two interfaces. The speech system was realized using a digitized voice that every two seconds gave the pedestrian information about his angular orientation relative to the destination. That is, the voice provided the user with messages like “One o’clock” or “Ten o’clock”. The physical feedback was a “shoulder-tapping” device using a matrix of pads tapping lines on the users back pointing towards the destination. They found in their study that veering could be reduced with a wearable computer based aid to 30% of the original amount. The tapping interface provided the best support for way finding in their experiment, but they concluded that personal preference is very important when finding the right interface, and further studies are needed in this area. (Ross 2000)
As wearable computers become accessible for the general population we are likely to see better aids for visually impaired pedestrians, and context and user awareness would greatly improve these tools.
Relaying information through one sensory channel to another does not only benefit people with sensory disorders. There are some situations in which fully functional human senses are not sufficient for the given task. A nuclear power plant worker may want to see radiation leaks, an air plane pilot may want to see the condition of the landing strip in the dark. Sensory augmentation is an area of great possibilities, and incorporated in a wearable computer it offers much potential.
One thing human beings are bad at is the capturing and recalling of information. Very few people have the ability to remember the exact words of a lecture or conversation, yet this ability would be very useful in many real life situations. Wearable computers can be able to help us to remember highly detailed conversations or read passages of books exactly, but then again, so can a tape recorder or a camera or just plain old pen and paper. In what specific ways can wearable computing add something new to augmented memory?
In the case of pen and paper, it obviously demands too much attention to be a competitive choice, but a tape recorder and a camera are still some strong candidates. The wearable computer would of course use a camera and a microphone to receive input, it is what to do with that information that is the burning issue.
There are two separate processes involved in memory augmentation: information capture and information access. With today’s wearable computers the process of information capture is a bit awkward, it usually relies on typing text to the wearable using a one-handed keyboard. The technology exists so that it is possible to capture text with a handheld scanning device, but this is of course not the seamless interaction the pioneers of the area speak of.
One of the great advantages of using a wearable computer as an information capture device is that it is always accessible. A tape recorder or a video camera demands attention from the user, and it is not something most people carry with them. A context aware wearable computer would always be recording what is going on in the environment, thus also capturing the unexpected events that may be worthy of preserving, like the face of the bank robber or the baby’s first steps.
In the access process, the user should be provided a number of playback capabilities. The most obvious would be to play back the video or audio in real-time, but this wouldn’t be very much more useful than a small video camera. The wearable computer would have to be capable of finding a certain part of the information the user asks for, and preferably be able to summarize recorded information using a filter based on what is important for the user. There is also another way of information access that is less direct, since the computer is desired to achieve context awareness the information will change the computers view of the world and thereby define how it will interact with the user in the future. (Abowd 2000)
Another important feature of wearable computers is that of connectivity. It would certainly be useful if one could share information with other wearable computer users and receive information from the Internet such as mail and www. This is of course a sensitive issue since the wearable computer would have a large amount of information about its user that the user himself would not want to share, the security issues need to be taken seriously.
If smart spaces is a thing of the future connectivity must be available in wearable computers to mediate the information flow between the environment and the individual, we cannot ask of a smart space to know what the user wants. In an infrastructure of wearable computers and smart spaces a new scenario of how advertising, sales and distribution would appear.
Thad Starner imagines a computer wearer walking down a New York City avenue when a billboard advertising trousers transmits information to the user’s wearable computer. Because the user is occupied, the wearable conveys to the billboard that all but the most interesting advertising overlays are turned off, and the billboard begins a negotiation process for the users attention. After asking the wearable about the user’s trousers size (information that the user himself has made publicly accessible), the billboard communicates with the manufacturer and finds out there is an overstock in that size. The billboard offers the wearable a discount price for the trousers, upon which the wearable whispers the price in the users ear. The user, now interested is shown the trousers in an animation on the overlay billboard and tells his wearable he wants to buy them. The wearable then transfers money and exchanges address information to the billboard. The billboard reroutes an express delivery truck to drop off the trousers at the user’s house within the next two hours (Starner 2001):
Steve Mann also envisions a society in which we will be able to decide which commercials we want to see. He sees wearable computers as a solution to the problem of commercial messages becoming more and more distracting.
Impact on Society
Given that wearable computers will affect everyday life it will of course also affect society as a whole. The depth of the transformation society will be facing comes from the fact that the concept of wearable computers will place technology in the background, it will not be obvious to us what is being conceived by computers and what is the result of human thinking. Where should we look to in order to grasp the character of these transformations? Technology finds its niche between humans and the world, it is from this juncture the transformations will spread.
What will the world look like when it is possible for a person to do virtually everything anywhere, and how will this affect what a “place” is to us? The portability of the information associated with a place will would erase the differences between places, contributing to the uniformity of the places in which we live. In his Questioning Ubiquitous Computing Agustin A. Araya claims that it is the differences in our surrounding environments that make them alive for us. He claims there is a certain “uniqueness” in ones street, neighbors and even ones morning that he fears will be lost when the virtual world becomes integrated in the physical one. That the unique encounters in a person’s life will be displaced in space and time, replaced by surrogate non-unique events that can be recorded, replayed and distributed.
The fact that technology would end up in the periphery of human awareness may also lead to another problem. The wearable computer demands so little attention from us that we can engage directly in works and activities without becoming entangled in the tool that helps us to do so. The question arises; is it only the tool that has disappeared from our awareness, or did it take something else with it? According to Araya the transformed world that would emerge through placing technology in the background would no longer surprise us as being transformed, so the loss of uniqueness suffered by the world would also disappear from our awareness. When the tool is no longer visible and distinct, it will no longer be possible to determine how it has affected the world. (Araya1995)
Steve Mann explores another problem with Wearable Computing conserning the difference between information space (e.g., advertising) in the real world and cyberspace (Mann 1999).
Conclusion and Authors Opinions
Wearable computers are still somewhat exotic and only something for a subculture of researchers. This is mainly because wearable computers are still in the stage of development, and the hardware is cumbersome, crude and expensive. But as the development of wearable computers continue to progress the possibilities for real use opens. When the technology is mature there are a lot of tasks at hand, and many more to come when people use their imagination. We feel that wearable computers will continue to evolve, and we have no idea where it might end up. It is clear to us that it will have an impact on our everyday life and society as a whole. There are some problems that have to be solved but its just a matter of time before wearable computers will be publicly accessible.
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