Now that you have looked at the wearable computer and a range of wearable sensors and RFID tags, I would like you to revisit the article on wearable computing that you downloaded in Block 1 Part 6, ‘From Backpacks to Smartphones: Past, Present, and Future of Wearable Computers’ by Amft and Lukowicz (2009). Study the section entitled ‘The future’ and answer the following questions.
Our discussion shows that although existing smart phone platforms certainly aren’t perfect from the point of view of wearable applications, the main concerns aren’t the computing units and their form factors. The key issue is the connectivity between the main computing unit (which will remain some sort of commercial, mobile phone-like “brick”) and other devices, sensors in particular. The latter are what really differentiate a wearable system from a mobile phone. In most cases, the other devices should and will be tightly integrated and possibly even built with textile technology. Thus, it seems that there’s little space for further research on dedicated wearable computing platforms. We also argue against the classical wearable vision of
a computer (or for that matter, a phone or a MP3 player) that’s fully integrated into clothing (possibly even built on a textile substrate). Instead we envision future wearable systems that consist of four main layers:
- Mobile phone-like device as central on-body platform for general purpose computing tasks. It will likely remain a standalone device carried in a pocket or a holster, not integrated in clothing. However, we’re likely to see vastly improved connectivity to other devices and sensors, possibly including interfaces to textile electronics.
- Carry-on peripherals such as headsets, displays, and textile touchpads. Such peripherals will facilitate real wearable interactions, making the system usable even when the user is interacting with the real world.
- Microsensors deeply embedded in accessories, such as rings, shoes, and belts, and, in some cases, encapsulated in clothing. Such sensors are essential to provide the system with environmental awareness and implement many health and sports related applications.
- Sensing, communication, and power generation infrastructure that isn’t just built on textiles, but actually implemented in textile technology. Such infrastructure is optimally suited to leverage the advantages of clothing and textiles, such as that they’re attached to certain body parts (important for sensing) or span entire body parts (relevant for communication and large area power generation—for example, using solar cells).
These layers should seamlessly interoperate, allowing applications running on the main computing device to make automatic transitions between interfaces and sensing setups as the user changes clothing.
Initial signs are already emerging that systems are moving toward the type of architecture we describe. The Bluetooth headset is a good example of a widely accepted carry-on peripheral that allows the user to interact with mobile phones while walking or driving. Nike recently introduced running shoes with an acceleration sensor wirelessly communicating with an iPod or iPhone, which nicely illustrates the concept of an embedded microsensor.
Increasingly, textiles provide the infrastructure for technology, such as sports jackets providing “cable channels” for headphones as well as simple textile touchpad sleeves that, for example, let skiers operate their mobile phones without removing their gloves. Researchers have also demonstrated clothing-integrated solar cells.
a. What do the authors think is the key issue in wearable computing?
Issues in wearable computing according to the material include:
- Integration of a sensing, power and communication infrastructure in various items of clothing.
- An increase of the computing power of mobile-phone size devices.
- An improvement of the interoperability of these devices to allow for the changing of ‘smart’ clothing with different integrated technologies.
- Integration of accessories with other clothing items such as jewelery and watches, pens etc to augment the PAN devices senses.
( questions b – d are part of the online material work, and are multiple choice. )
e. Give two examples from the article of how textiles are already being used as infrastructure in wearable computing.
The skiers jacket are two good examples:
- The sleeve touchpad has an integrated interface allowing for the use of a mobile without the skier taking off their gloves. Also the suit incorporates cabling that allows for various accessories to be worn easily, such as music players.
- An other interesting developement is integrated solar cells for recharging devices.