Last week Google flexed its augmented tech muscles with the dramatic sky-diving demonstration of Project Glass at Google I/O 2012. Attendees were given the option of ordering a pair of the glasses for $1,500, so that developers could take them away and come up with inventive and creative uses for them. With the hype surrounding the glasses you’d be forgiven for thinking that they were the only wearable computing coming to the market. But they’re not, as plenty more are working their way to an online retailer near you soon.
And with these new types of products—these computers we can wear—we’ll be entering another phase of our digital journey, a phase where the tech goes from being something noticeable, and in some cases cumbersome, to something which will slip quietly into the background, integrated into our clothes and the objects that surround us. This is the world of ubiquitous computing and wearable technology. It’s a world that’s been explored in R&D labs across the world for some time, but now it’s beginning to hit the consumer market where the real impact will be felt.
The first consumer iterations of these products are coming our way with tech like the Google glasses and, sure, they might be too expensive and not look too great for the fashion conscious. But give it a few years and they’ll become cheaper and sleeker, eventually evolving into an AR contact lens.
So, in preparation for this new wearable tech world, here’s a list of some devices that could well change our lives—just like smartphones, iPads, and all those other devices you can’t live without.
1. Project Glass
We’re all well aware of this product and if they do it right it could be as revolutionary for computing as the iPhone was. Google’s ambitions for it include people being able to see the world through your eyes via image and streaming video and also—which is probably the most important one for most of us—providing you with the functionality of a smartphone but through glasses.
2. Nike+ FuelBand
One area wearable tech could have an impact is exercise, syncing up devices and crunching and analyzing data. The Nike+ FuelBand measures your activity throughout the day, tracks your steps, and notes how many calories you burn, then syncs the data to your iPhone. It’s also a watch.
This project involves air-purifying clothes covered in a spray-on nanotechnology that sucks pollutants from the air and turns them into something more benign. It’s the brainchild of fashion professor Helen Storey and chemist Tony Ryan (above) and can transform the toxic greenhouse gas nitrous oxide into water soluble nitrate. The more people that wear the product the more it can impact a local environment.
4. Pebble: E-Paper Watch
Pebble raised over ten times its Kickstarter goal, and it’s a smartwatch that runs apps and also connects wirelessly with an iPhone or Android device via Bluetooth. It’s small, lightweight, has a high-res e-paper display, and a three-axis accelerometer. It can monitor pace and distance for runners or cyclists, and you can also check messages and control music on your phone. It has a seven-day battery life.
These are the inevitable goal for products like the Google glasses, moving from bulky spectacles to imperceptible contact lens to read text, check emails, and augment your vision with Terminator-style info or augmented sculptures and artworks. You could also wear them to play video games. The technology was trialled at the University of Washington in Seattle, and currently they’re safe and feasible, but lacking a good power source and only have a single-pixel display. But give it a few years.
6. Apollo Dress Shirt
This is another Kickstarter project that smashed its funding goal. The shirt, from Ministry of Supply, uses NASA Spacesuit technology to regulate body temperature using “phase change material” that keeps you sweat-free. The shirt absorbs and releases heat and takes it away from your body. It’s also anti-odor and wrinkle-free.
Originally developed by researchers at the University of Illinois and Princeton University to remotely monitor patients in a more unobtrusive manner, these stretchy wireless electronics can be stuck onto the skin so your body becomes just another part of the network. The electronics are very thin silicon chips sandwiched between two protective layers of polyimide, a type of polymer, and the uses for them are only just beginning to be explored.
8. Wearable Gestural Interfaces
These wearable gestural interfaces—much like the OmniTouch—are in development from both Microsoft and MIT's Pattie Maes and Pranav Mistry with SixthSense. Both devices augment the physical world by projecting digital information which can then be interacted with using hand gestures. Both are fairly bulky but they’re only going to become more refined.