In 1996 there was a surge in interest concerning wearable computing and communication. But not much has happened commercially since then.
Every innovation, said Alex Lightman, CEO of Charmed Corp takes decades to be diffused widely. Wearable computers currently lack the technology needed to pass `the tipping point` at which an innovation goes into mainstream uptake. In the case of wearables, Windows OS is based on the WIMP (Windows, Icon, Menus, Pointer) paradigm, which is inappropriate for applications that, optimally, would get input through context awareness.
Now Carnegie Mellon University is developing a host of software capabilities that can fit onto a wearable computer equipped with a small camera and microphone. The device could translate speech, identify people`s faces, read signs in foreign languages, or navigate and track the movement of a roomful of people over time. The same technology principle is being considered for airport security; Last Thursday, Viisage Technology of Littleton said it would deploy its face-recognition system at an unidentified US airport, in response to the need for better security for air travel after last month`s deadly attacks. Viisage makes systems that can cross-check surveillance camera footage with criminal mugshots using technology originally developed at MIT.
The wearable technology industry may well have found it’s tipping point here. “One of the reasons why wearable technology has not picked up that quickly is the fear of looking weird or being perceived as arrogant,” said Alex Lightman, “since wearables are often obvious. There will come a day, however, when soldiers or rescuers or astronauts or actors use wearables in the public eye, and, from that day on, wearables will be cool and it will be prestigious to wear them”
That day may have come sooner as he expected as the Carnegie Mellon Interactive Systems Laboratories have been developing a language translator and navigation technology which are to be used primarily specifically for commercial use and tourism. The device can translate speech, identify people`s faces, read signs in foreign languages, or navigate and track the movement of a roomful of people over time. Such information is essential for the war on terrorism the United States is waging, said Loren Thompson, a defense analyst with the Arlington, Va.-based Lexington Institute. This time the enemy has shown itself to be underground, elusive, detached from a national government. Big weapons are difficult to aim at the type of enemy America finds itself facing.
It is surely with this in mind that tech-u-wear 2001, an independent business conference on Wearable technology happening in NY on the 30-31 Oct has changed the slant of it’s second day towards security and surveillance procedures and applications. To find out more go to www.tech-u-wear.com
On day 2 of the conference Alex Lightman will be making a presentation on Future Applications. He’ll focus on how wearable computers can assist the efforts of security and surveillance organizations as well as the emergency services. Approximately 20 applications will be presented, including smart ID badges to replace paper and plastic; medical monitoring systems for refugee camps; fire detection systems; soldier wearables; ad hoc broadband networks that have human-powered components; and wearable cameras for police and citizen uses.
On top of that Darpa will be present at the conference and Bob Graybill will be revealing the work of the “e-Textiles Research Initiative”, who are developing revolutionary textiles that integrate sensors, actuators, logic, and power sources into large area military applications.
So what’s the future of wearable technology? Alex Lightman would like to have a working version of the glasses Tom Cruise used when receiving his mission in the movie Mission: Impossible II, but with software for doing augmented reality overlays embedded like we saw in The Terminator, when he went looking for clothes and transportation. Basically, he wants the wearables that science fiction promised.
For more information about wearable computing go to www.tech-u-wear.com
This article contains parts from the story run on page C2 of the Boston Globe on 10/8/2001. © Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.