With the development and publicity associated with Google Glass, wearable technology is working its way back into fashion. Wearable technologies are described as those accessories and items of clothing that include computer and electronic technologies. These may have the benefit of offering practical solutions to problems, but they may also simply be designed that way simply for the way that they look.
Wearable technology can sometimes also be described as body-borne computers. This leads to Android Authority writer Racoma (2013) to describe even 1990s watches that acted as calculators to be wearable computers.
Wearable technologies are not a new phenomenon. Indeed the simple wrist watch fits into the definition of wearable technologies, and according to Lauren Hall-Stigerts (2014) writing for Big Fish Games:
“The first wearable wrist watch was created…by taking a woman’s pocket watch and attaching It as a bracelet chain commissioned by the Queen of Naples in 1810”.
Stigerts-Hall goes on to argue that watches were not initially loved by almost everyone as they are these days. Rather, men dismissed them as a fad that would fade away. However, nowadays a very large proportion of the population wears a wrist watch.
After the wrist watch the next development in wearable technology came much later. This was the pacemaker, developed by John Hopps (Stigerts-Hall, 2014). The pacemaker was designed to provide a warning signal if the heart was dropping beyond temperatures considered to be acceptable. In this case the pacemaker would provide a shock to the heart to get it to beat at the correct right. By 1958 the product had been developed to the point where it was able to be placed beneath chest skin. Interestingly Stigerts-Hall explains that Hopps ended up using his own invention, and had two pacemakers in his life time.
While the pacemaker by Hopps was not the first invented, the one developed by Hopps was the first that was small enough to be considered wearable and able to offer real benefits to health.
Racoma (2013) argues that the 1980s was the real advent of practical wearable computers. The example given is from 1981 when Steve Mann, an inventor in computational photography created a multimedia computer that was designed also to be worn as a backpack.
In the late 1980s, yet another wearable technology was created. This was called Private Eye and amounted to a display that was mounted on the head. In the 1990s things progressed further and a wearable computer system was developed by Park Enterprises. Later, in 1993, Racoma explains that KARMA (Knowledge Based Augmented Reality for Maintenance Assistance) was developed.
However, in 1994 an even more advanced wearable computer system was developed. This one had the ability to record the interactions that the wearer had with people and devices. It was named “Forget me Not” and it worked by using wireless transmitters. Also in 1994 a head mounted camera was developed that was designed to act as a wearable wireless webcam. Most of these developments were prohibitively expensive for the general public, and as Racoma (2013) explains, the Trekker wearable computer in 1998 retailed at $10,000 making it out of the reach of most everyday consumers.
Racoma argues that in the 2000s there was less focus on wearable computers and technology, but nonetheless that some developments were made during this time. For example, a Tinmith wearable computer developed by Dr Bruce Thomas and Dr Wayne Piekarsky was unveiled at a technology conference and it was designed to support research specifically in the field of augmented reality.
Meanwhile, in 2003 the Fossil Wrist PDA was introduced to the market. This was a wearable computer that offered greater value than some of its predecessors in the sense that it allowed the user to synch with their computer, provided that computer was a PC. It used a Palm operating system.
By 2009, the Glacier Computer, a wearable computer, was introduced according to Racoma. This was designed with the emergency services, field logistics and security and defence teams in mind, and it offered the ability to run on Linux or Windows operating systems. It was possible to link it up using WiFi, GPS and Bluetooth. The product’s market name was the W200 computer. However, wearable technologies have really started to take off since the start of this decade and this will be the subject of Part 2 of this series.
Additional resource: infographic on wearable tech.