Wearable Computing – Is it finally here?

Anybody with even a passing interest in technology will have probably heard the rumours that have abounded over the last few days about Apples supposed new product, the iWatch. Even though it is pure speculation at this stage and has been greeted by Apple with their usual stoic silence it’s a great opportunity to look at the whole area of wearable computing. Wearable Computing which has long been a mainstay of science fiction is about to become a reality with many tech evangelists claiming it will be the next big thing. Tech analyst Juniper Research estimates that wearable computing will generate €600m in revenue this year and €1.25bn in 2014 with annual unit sales rising from 15m in 2013 to 70m by 2017. The demand certainly seems to be out there, in a previous post we mentioned Pebble the watch like smart phone accessory that raised over $10m in their Kickstarter campaign (100 times their goal of $100,000). Numbers like this will surely encourage manufacturers to consider similar designs. Rather than wasting time discussing a product that (at least for the moment) doesn’t exist the remainder of this article (and indeed my next couple of posts) will concentrate on products that have got at least as far as the prototype stage and in some cases are already available to buy (for more on the mythical iWatch see http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2013/feb/18/iwatch-apple-tv).

Glasses  – Google Project Glass

In April last year Google released the video below demoing “Project Glass” their Augmented Reality (AR) glasses that allow their user to access information and interface with their smart phone.  Although not a new idea (portable computing with a heads up display (HUD) has been around for a number of years see the work of Thad Starner and Steve Mann) this is the first time something like this has even vaguely resembled a mainstream product.

There is more going on in the video above than AR of course. Like other mobile technologies (particularly the smart phone to which they are connected) the glasses are context aware and the user interacts with the technology using natural language. With Project Glass Google have been accused by some commentators of completely missing the point however claiming that instead of mediating and augmenting your connection with reality they mediate and augment your connection to Google services. Since the project was announced in April the glasses have made an appearance at New York fashion week, jumping out of a aeroplane on skydivers and even a brief cameo being worn by Google founder Sergey Brin on a subway. The latest sneak peak into the possibilities offered  by Project Glass, now simply called Glass is the video below which was released on February 20th.

Despite all the publicity, whether this is something real people actually want is still uncertain. If it is however it could mean a huge change in how we interact with mobile technologies. Large touch screens would not be necessary on smart phones, in fact we wouldn’t have to take them from our pockets. Any surface could be a keyboard or we could just speak text (when appropriate of course). How might this effect visually impaired users? Is there any alternative to AR for them or do they just stick with the legacy touch screens until they are no longer supported? These negatives aside there are plenty of positives in terms of possible AT applications for this technology. Any ideas for AT uses?

It’s worth mentioning that Google aren’t the only ones looking at this technology, other companies hoping to introduce smart glasses include Vuzix and the camera manufacturer Olympus.

For more info on Project Glass see https://plus.google.com/+projectglass/posts and http://www.google.com/glass/start/

Also an interesting article on The Verge; Project Glass and the epic history of wearable computers

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