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Second-generation WearComp

My wearable computer efforts of the 1970s were a success in some ways, and a failure in others. The success was in demonstrating the functionality of an early prototype of wearable computer system, and in formulating a practical application domain for wearable computing. However, there were many technical failures. In particular, the bulky nature of the apparatus rendered it often more of a photographer's burden than a photographer's assistant. Furthermore, the reliability problems associated with so many different system components were particularly troublesome, given the nature of typical usage patterns: walking around on rough terrain where wiring and the like would be shaken or pulled loose. Interconnections between components were found to be one of the major hurdles.

However, much was learned from these early efforts, and I decided that a new generation of wearable computers would be necessary if the apparatus were to be of real benefit. In particular, I decided that the apparatus needed to be more like clothing than like a backpack. To this end, I attempted spreading components somewhat uniformly over ordinary clothing (Fig 3). This effort succeeded in providing a truly helpful photographer's assistant, which, later, was to help me win ``Best Color Entry'', two years in a row (1986 and 1987), in the National Fuji Film Photography Competition.

Figure 3: Generation-2 WearComps were characterized by distributed components, with wires sewn into clothing. (a) In my dressing room, testing flash sync with the waist-worn television set as display medium. Note the array of pushbutton switches on the handle of the electronic flash which comprise a ``keyboard'' (data-entry device) of sorts. Here I am partially dressed (a black jacket with the remainder of the communications antennas sewn into it has yet to be put on). Note the absence of the backpack, which has been replaced by a more distributed notion of wearable computing. (b) Completely dressed, in the field. Note my newer generation-2 flash system (homogeneous array of 8 small lightweight electronic flashlamps) in keeping with the distributed philosophy of generation-2 WearComp. (Figure courtesy of Campus Canada, 1986 and Kent Nickerson, 1985)

Generation-2 WearComp (I referred to Gen-2 and Gen-3 as `smart clothing') was characterized by a far greater degree of comfort, with a tradeoff in setup time (e.g. the increased comfort was attained at the expense of taking longer to get into and out of the apparatus). Typical `smart clothing' comprised special pants, a special vest, and special jacket, which I connected together, such that much time and care were required to assemble everything into a working outfit. A side-effect of generation-2 WearComp, was the fact that it was more inextricably intertwined with the wearer. For example, instead of running wires from the sensors in the shoes up to the backpack, the shoes could simply be plugged into special pants that had a wiring harness and wiring already sewn in. These pants were then plugged into the compute vest, which was in turn plugged into the radio jacket, establishing a wireless connection from the shoes to the base station, without a tangled mess of wires as was characteristic of my generation-1 WearComp. Later, other experiments were facilitated by the clothing-based computing framework (for example, electrical stimulation of the muscles, attempts at monitoring the heart and other physiological parameters, etc.gif) which it was hoped might add a new dimension to WearComp.

Because of the more involved dressing and undressing procedures, I built a special dressing area, comprising rows of hangers to hang up the clothing, and floor-to-ceiling shelves (visible in the background of Fig 3(a). Much of my generation-1 apparatus remained, and my generation-2 components were made in such a way that they continued to be compatible with generation-1 components. For example, NTSC as well as certain variations of NTSC remained the dominant computer display format. In Fig 3(a), a mixture of generation-1 and generation-2 components are being tested. Note the waist-mounted display, which was found to be more comfortable than the display of Fig 1(a). In particular, the older generation of display was very uncomfortable due to its front-heavy nature, and its large moment of inertia.

The new generation of display was found to be much more comfortable (e.g. could be worn for several hours at a time), but it lacked a certain kind of interactional constancy that can best be described as cyborgian[10]. Although it was always on during operation, the fact that light from the display was not always entering the eye was found to detract from its utility in certain applications. Use of the waist-mounted television was somewhat reminiscent of a camera with a waist-level viewfinder (e.g. the old Brownie Hawkeye, the Rolleiflex, or the more modern Hasselblad).

With the advent of the consumer video camera, the consumer electronics industry created a newer generation of miniature CRTs for camera viewfinders. These were particularly suitable for eyeglass-based wearable computing displays[11], allowing the waist-mounted television display to be abandoned.

Table 1


Table 1: Generations of author's `WearComp' built for personal imaging: past, present, and predicted future. Note that Gen-2 and Gen-3 overlap substantially. Gen-4 is completely hypothetical.

provides a comparison of my generation-1 and generation-2 wearable computers together with present and hypothetical future generations.

next up previous
Next: Augmented reality Up: An historical account of Previous: The aremac

Steve Mann
Tue Jan 6 23:24:56 EST 1998