Wearable computer

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File:Applewatch 2015.jpeg
The Apple Watch, released in April 2015.

Wearable computers, also known as body-borne computers or wearables are miniature electronic devices that are worn by the bearer under, with or on top of clothing.[1] This class of wearable technology has been developed for general or special purpose information technologies and media development. Wearable computers are especially useful for applications that require more complex computational support than just hardware coded logics.

One modern example for wearable technology would be the Fitbit system which allows the user to track his or her time, distance, pace and calories via a wristband. Another example is the Google Glass, which combines innovative displays with novel gestural movements for interaction.

One of the main features of a wearable computer is consistency. There is a constant interaction between the computer and user, i.e. there is no need to turn the device on or off. Another feature is the ability to multi-task. It is not necessary to stop what one is doing to use the device; it is augmented into all other actions. These devices can be incorporated by the user to act like a prosthetic. It may therefore be an extension of the user’s mind and/or body.

Many issues are common to the wearables as with mobile computing, ambient intelligence and ubiquitous computing research communities, including power management and heat dissipation, software architectures, wireless and personal area networks.


Different stakeholders have defined wearable computing differently. For example, consumers often refer to wearable computers as computers that can be easily carried on the body or systems with a heads-up display or speech activated. This contrasts with academics that have a definition of a system that can perform a set of function without being constrained by the physical hardware of the system. Finally, people who are trying to sell these products and the idea of these products will use the broadest definition, any computing device worn on the body. Because of the broad context in which a wearable computer can be defined, this article page will use the broadest definition, any computing device worn on the body.[2]

Areas of applications

In many applications, user's skin, hands, voice, eyes, arms as well as motion or attention are actively engaged as the physical environment.

Wearable computer items have been initially developed for and applied with e.g.

and other usage also.

Today still "wearable computing" is a topic of active research, with areas of study including user interface design, augmented reality, pattern recognition. The use of wearables for specific applications or for compensating disabilities as well as supporting elderly people steadily increases. The application of wearable computers into fashion design is evident through Microsoft's prototype of "The Printing Dress" at the International Symposium on Wearable Computers in June 2011.[4]


Evolution of Steve Mann's WearComp wearable computer from backpack based systems of the 1980s to his current covert systems.

Due to the varied definitions of "wearable" and "computer", the first wearable computer could be as early as the first abacus on a necklace, a 16th-century abacus ring, the first wristwatch made by Breguet for the Queen of Naples in 1810, or the covert timing devices hidden in shoes to cheat at roulette by Thorp and Shannon in the 1960s and 1970s.[5]

A computer is not merely a time-keeping or calculating device, but rather a user-programmable item for complex algorithms, interfacing, and data management. By this definition, the wearable computer was invented by Steve Mann, in the late 1970s:[6][7][8]

Steve Mann, a professor at the University of Toronto, was hailed as the father of the wearable computer and the ISSCC's first virtual panelist, by moderator Woodward Yang of Harvard University (Cambridge Mass.).

— IEEE ISSCC 8 Feb. 2000

The development of wearable items has taken several steps of miniaturization from discrete electronics over hybrid designs to fully integrated designs, where just one processor chip, a battery and some interface conditioning items make the whole unit.


Queen Elizabeth I of England received the wristwatch from Robert Dudley in 1571 as a new year’s present.[9]


The Qing Dynasty saw the introduction of a fully functional abacus on a ring, which could be used while it was being worn.[1][10]


The first wearable timepiece was made by watchmaker Breguet for the Queen of Naples in 1810. It was a small ladies' pocket watch on a bracelet chain.[11] Again, a wristwatch is a "wearable computer" in the sense that it can be worn, and that it also computes time. But it is not a general-purpose computer in the sense of the modern word.

Military use of wearables: In Girard-Perregaux made wristwatches for the German Imperial Navy after an artillery officer complained that it was not convenient to use both hands to operate a pocket watch while timing his bombardments. The officer had strapped a pocket watch onto his wrist and his superiors liked his solution, and thus asked La Chaux-de-Fonds to travel to Berlin to begin production of small pocket watches attached to wrist bracelets.[11]

Early acceptance of wristlets by men serving in the military was not widespread, though:

Wristlets, as they were called, were reserved for women, and considered more of a passing fad than a serious timepiece. In fact, they were held in such disdain that many a gentlemen were actually quoted to say they "would sooner wear a skirt as wear a wristwatch".

— International Watch Magazine[12]

1960s and 1970s

In 1961 mathematicians Edward O. Thorp, and Claude Shannon built some computerized timing devices to help them cheat at the game of roulette. One such timer was concealed in a shoe, another in a pack of cigarettes. Various versions of this apparatus were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Detailed pictures of a shoe-based timing device can be viewed at www.eyetap.org.

Thorp refers to himself as the inventor of the first "wearable computer"[13] In other variations, the system was a concealed cigarette-pack sized analog computer designed to predict the motion of roulette wheels. A data-taker would use microswitches hidden in his shoes to indicate the speed of the roulette wheel, and the computer would indicate an octant of the roulette wheel to bet on by sending musical tones via radio to a miniature speaker hidden in a collaborator's ear canal. The system was successfully tested in Las Vegas in June 1961, but hardware issues with the speaker wires prevented it from being used beyond test runs.[14] This was not a wearable computer, because it could not be repurposed during use; rather it was an example of task-specific hardware. This work was kept secret until it was first mentioned in Thorp's book Beat the Dealer (revised ed.) in 1966[14] and later published in detail in 1969.[15]

The 1970s saw the rise of similar special purpose hardware timing devices, such as roulette prediction devices using next-generation technology. In particular, a group known as Eudaemonic Enterprises used a CMOS 6502 microprocessor with 5K RAM to create a shoe computer with inductive radio communications between a data-taker and bettor.[16][17]

Another early wearable system was a camera-to-tactile vest for the blind, published by C.C. Collins in 1977, that converted images into a 1024-point, 10-inch square tactile grid on a vest.[18] On the consumer end, 1977 also saw the introduction of the HP-01 algebraic calculator watch by Hewlett-Packard.[19]


The 1980s saw the rise of more general-purpose wearable computers that fit the modern definition of "computer" by going beyond task-specific hardware to more general-purpose (e.g. reprogrammable by the user) devices. In 1981 Steve Mann designed and built a backpack-mounted 6502-based wearable multimedia computer with text, graphics, and multimedia capability, as well as video capability (cameras and other photographic systems). Mann went on to be an early and active researcher in the wearables field, especially known for his 1994 creation of the Wearable Wireless Webcam, the first example of Lifelogging.[20][21]

Though perhaps not technically "wearable," in 1986 Steve Roberts built Winnebiko-II, a recumbent bicycle with on-board computer and chorded keyboard. Winnebiko II was the first of Steve Roberts' forays into nomadic computing that allowed him to type while riding.[22]

Datalink USB Dress edition with Invasion video game. The watch crown (icontrol) can be used to move the defender left to right and the fire control is the Start/Split button on the lower side of the face of the watch at 6 o' clock


In 1989 Reflection Technology marketed the Private Eye head-mounted display, which scanned a vertical array of LEDs across the visual field using a vibrating mirror. This display gave rise to several hobbyist and research wearables, including Gerald "Chip" Maguire's IBM / Columbia University Student Electronic Notebook,[23] Doug Platt's Hip-PC[24] and Carnegie Mellon University's VuMan 1 in 1991.[25] The Student Electronic Notebook consisted of the Private Eye, Toshiba diskless AIX notebook computers (prototypes) and a stylus based input system plus virtual keyboard, and used direct-sequence spread spectrum radio links to provide all the usual TCP/IP based services, including NFS mounted file systems and X11, all running in the Andrew Project environment. The Hip-PC included an Agenda palmtop used as a chording keyboard attached to the belt and a 1.44 megabyte floppy drive. Later versions incorporated additional equipment from Park Engineering. The system debuted at "The Lap and Palmtop Expo" on 16 April 1991. VuMan 1 was developed as part of a Summer-term course at Carnegie Mellon's Engineering Design Research Center, and was intended for viewing house blueprints. Input was through a three-button unit worn on the belt, and output was through Reflection Tech's Private Eye. The CPU was an 8 MHz 80188 processor with 0.5 MB ROM.

In 1993 the Private Eye was used in Thad Starner's wearable, based on Doug Platt's system and built from a kit from Park Enterprises, a Private Eye display on loan from Devon Sean McCullough, and the Twiddler chording keyboard made by Handykey. Many iterations later this system became the MIT "Tin Lizzy" wearable computer design, and Starner went on to become one of the founders of MIT's wearable computing project. 1993 also saw Columbia University's augmented-reality system known as KARMA: Knowledge-based Augmented Reality for Maintenance Assistance. Users would wear a Private Eye display over one eye, giving an overlay effect when the real world was viewed with both eyes open. KARMA would overlay wireframe schematics and maintenance instructions on top of whatever was being repaired. For example, graphical wireframes on top of a laser printer would explain how to change the paper tray. The system used sensors attached to objects in the physical world to determine their locations, and the entire system ran tethered from a desktop computer.[26][27]

In 1994 Edgar Matias and Mike Ruicci of the University of Toronto, debuted a "wrist computer." Their system presented an alternative approach to the emerging head-up display plus chord keyboard wearable. The system was built from a modified HP 95LX palmtop computer and a Half-QWERTY one-handed keyboard. With the keyboard and display modules strapped to the operator's forearms, text could be entered by bringing the wrists together and typing.[28] The same technology was used by IBM researchers to create the half-keyboard "belt computer.[29] Also in 1994, Mik Lamming and Mike Flynn at Xerox EuroPARC demonstrated the Forget-Me-Not, a wearable device that would record interactions with people and devices and store this information in a database for later query.[30] It interacted via wireless transmitters in rooms and with equipment in the area to remember who was there, who was being talked to on the telephone, and what objects were in the room, allowing queries like "Who came by my office while I was on the phone to Mark?" As with the Toronto system, Forget-Me-Not was not based on a head-mounted display.

Also in 1994, DARPA started the Smart Modules Program to develop a modular, humionic approach to wearable and carryable computers, with the goal of producing a variety of products including computers, radios, navigation systems and human-computer interfaces that have both military and commercial use. In July 1996 DARPA went on to host the "Wearables in 2005" workshop, bringing together industrial, university and military visionaries to work on the common theme of delivering computing to the individual.[31] A follow-up conference was hosted by Boeing in August 1996, where plans were finalized to create a new academic conference on wearable computing. In October 1997, Carnegie Mellon University, MIT, and Georgia Tech co-hosted the IEEE International Symposium on Wearables Computers (ISWC) in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The symposium was a full academic conference with published proceedings and papers ranging from sensors and new hardware to new applications for wearable computers, with 382 people registered for the event.


In 2002, as part of Kevin Warwick's Project Cyborg, Warwick's wife, Irena, wore a necklace which was electronically linked to Warwick's nervous system via an implanted electrode array. The color of the necklace changed between red and blue dependent on the signals on Warwick's nervous system.[32] Dr. Bruce H Thomas and Dr. Wayne Piekarski developed the Tinmith wearable computer system to support augmented reality. This work was first published internationally in 2000 in the ISWC conference. The work was carried out at the Wearable Computer Lab in the University of South Australia.

In the late 2000s (decade), various Chinese companies began producing mobile phones in the form of wristwatches, the descendants of which as of 2013 include the i5 and i6, which are GSM phones with 1.8 inch displays, and the ZGPAX s5 Android wristwatch phone.


The current moves in standardization with IEEE, IETF and several industry groups (e.g. Bluetooth) leads to more various interfacing under the WPAN (wireless personal area network) and the WBAN (Wireless body area network) offer new classification of designs for interfacing and networking.

Also, the 6th-generation iPod Nano has a wristwatch attachment available to convert it to a wearable wristwatch computer.

The developments of wearable computing now encompasses Rehabilitation Engineering, Ambulatory intervention treatment, life guard systems, Defense wearable systems.[clarification needed]

Sony is now selling an Android compatible wrist watch called Sony SmartWatch. It must be paired with an Android phone as an additional, remote display and notification tool.[33]

Fitbit continues to release new wearable fitness trackers, with their newest being the Fitbit surge, a full smartwatch compatible with Android and iOS

Google Glass, Google's head-mounted display, which was launched in 2013

Google Glass launched their optical head-mounted display (OHMD) to a test group of users in 2013, and plan on launching it to consumers sometime in 2014. Google's mission is to produce a mass-market ubiquitous computer that displays information in a smartphone-like hands-free format,[34] that can interact with the Internet via natural language voice commands.[35][36]

On April 24, 2015 Apple released their take on a smartwatch, known as the Apple Watch. Which features a touchscreen, many applications, and a heart-rate sensor [37]

In January 2015, Intel announced the sub-miniature Intel Curie for wearable applications, based on its Intel Quark platform. As small as a button, it features a 6-axis accelerometer, a DSP sensor hub, a Bluetooth LE unit and a battery charge controller.[38] It was scheduled to ship in the second half of the year.


Image of the ZYPAD wrist wearable computer from Arcom Control Systems

The commercialization of general-purpose wearable computers, as led by companies such as Xybernaut, CDI and ViA, Inc. has thus far met with limited success. Publicly traded Xybernaut tried forging alliances with companies such as IBM and Sony in order to make wearable computing widely available, and managed to get their equipment seen on such shows as The X-Files, but in 2005 their stock was delisted and the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection amid financial scandal and federal investigation. Xybernaut emerged from bankruptcy protection in January, 2007. ViA, Inc. filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and subsequently ceased operations. 1998 Seiko marketed the Ruputer, a computer in a (fairly large) wristwatch, to mediocre returns. In 2001 IBM developed and publicly displayed two prototypes for a wristwatch computer running Linux. The last message about them dates to 2004, saying the device would cost about $250 but it is still under development. In 2002 Fossil, Inc. announced the Fossil Wrist PDA, which ran the Palm OS. Its release date was set for summer of 2003, but was delayed several times and was finally made available on 5 January 2005. Timex Datalink is another example of a practical wearable computer. Hitachi launched a wearable computer called Poma in 2002. Eurotech offers the ZYPAD, a wrist wearable touch screen computer with GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity and which can run a number of custom applications.[39] In 2013, a wearable computing device on the wrist to control body temperature was developed at MIT.[40]

Evidence of weak market acceptance was demonstrated when Panasonic Computer Solutions Company's product failed. Panasonic has specialized in mobile computing with their Toughbook line for over 10 years and has extensive market research into the field of portable, wearable computing products. In 2002, Panasonic introduced a wearable brick computer coupled with a handheld or armworn touchscreen. The brick would communicate wirelessly to the screen, and concurrently the brick would communicate wirelessly out to the internet or other networks. The wearable brick was quietly pulled from the market in 2005, while the screen evolved to a thin client touchscreen used with a handstrap. (The "Brick" Computer is the CF-07 Toughbook, dual batteries, screen used same batteries as the base, 800 x 600 resolution, optional GPS and WWAN. Has one M-PCI slot and one PCMCIA slot for expansion. CPU used is a 600 MHz Pentium 3 factory under clocked to 300 MHz so it can stay cool passively as it has no fan. Micro dim ram is upgradable. The screen can be used wirelessly on other computers.)

Google has announced that it has been working on a head-mounted display-based wearable "augmented reality" device called Google Glass. An early version of the device was available to the US public from April 2013 until January 2015. Despite ending sales of the device through their Explorer Program, Google has stated that they plan to continue developing the technology.[41][42][43]

LG and iriver produce earbud wearables measuring heart rate and other biometrics, as well as various activity metrics.[44][45]

Greater response to commercialization has been found in creating devices with designated purposes rather than all-purpose. One example is the WSS1000. The WSS1000 is a wearable computer designed to make the work of inventory employees easier and more efficient. The device allows workers to scan the barcode of and immediately enter the information into the companies system. This removed the need for carrying a clipboard, removed error and confusion from hand written notes, and allowed workers the freedom of both hands while working. The system improves accuracy as well as efficiency.[2]

Popular culture

Many technologies for wearable computers derive their idea from science fiction. There are many examples of ideas from popular movies that have become technologies or are technologies currently being produced.

  • 3D User Interface: Devices to display usable interfaces wherever you are. Ex. Minority Report, Gate Workers in Zion (Matrix), etc.
  • Intelligent Textiles: Clothing that can relay and collect information. Ex. Tron and also many Sci-Fi Military movies.
  • Threat Glasses: Scan others in vicinity and assess threat-to-self level. Ex. Terminator 2 or 'Threep' Technology in Lock-In
  • Computerized Contact Lenses: Ex. Mission Impossible 4
  • Combat Sut Armor: Ex. Iron Man Suit
  • Brain Nano-Bots to Store Memories in the Cloud: Ex. Total Recall
  • Infrared Headsets: Can help identify suspects and see through walls. Ex. Robocop.
  • Wrist worn Computers: Various abilities such as wearer's stats, area maps, inventory, flashlight, geiger counter (Pip Boy 3000) or communication, laser, detect poison in food, tracking device (Leela's Wrist Device). Ex. Pip Boy 3000 from Fallout games and Leela's Wrist Device from Futurama

Military use

See also: Future Soldier

The wearable computer was introduced to the US Army in 1989 as a small computer that was meant to assist soldiers in battle. Since then, the concept has grown to include the = Land Warrior program and proposal for future systems.[46] The most extensive military program in the wearables arena is the US Army's Land Warrior system,[47] which will eventually be merged into the Future Force Warrior system.[citation needed]

F-INSAS is an Indian Military Project, designed largely with wearable computing.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Mann, Steve (2012): Wearable Computing. In: Soegaard, Mads and Dam, Rikke Friis (eds.). "Encyclopedia of Human-Computer Interaction". Aarhus, Denmark: The Interaction-Design.org Foundation.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Starner, Thad (January 2002). "Wearable Computer: No Longer Science Fiction" (PDF). Pervasive Computing. 
  3. Chris Davies (12 September 2012). "Quantigraphic camera promises HDR eyesight from Father of AR". SlashGear. 
  4. Microsoft, (3 August 2011), Dressing for the Future: Microsoft Duo Breaks Through with Wearable Technology Concept, Microsoft News Center
  5. Thorp, Edward (October 1998). "The Invention of the First Wearable Computer". Digest of Papers. Second International Symposium on Wearable Computers (Cat. No.98EX215): 4–8. 
  6. Peter Clarke. "IEEE ISSCC 2000: 'Dick Tracy' watch watchers disagree". EE Times. 
  7. Katherine Watier (19 April 2003). "Marketing Wearable Computers to Consumers: An Examination of Early Adopter Consumers' Feelings and Attitudes Toward Wearable Computers". Washington, DC. 
  8. Tara Kieffner. "Wearable Computers: An Overview". 
  9. David Boettcher , "The "Invention" of the Wristwatch", Eur Ing David Boettcher, April 2015
  10. "Huizhou people's abacus complex". Xinhua. 2006-07-20. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 Michael Friedberg. "Early Wristwatches and Coming of an Age in World War". 
  12. John E. Brozek (January 2004). "The History and Evolution of the Wristwatch". International Watch Magazine. 
  13. Quincy, The invention of the first wearable computer, in The Second International Symposium on Wearable Computers: Digest of Papers, IEEE Computer Society, 1998, pp. 4–8.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Raseana.k.a shigady, Beat the Dealer, 2nd Edition, Vintage, New York, 1966. ISBN 0-394-70310-3
  15. Edward O. Thorp, "Optimal gambling systems for favorable game." Review of the International Statistical Institute, V. 37:3, 1969, pp. 273–293.
  16. T.A. Bass, The Eudaemonic Pie, Houghton Mifflin, New York, 1985.
  17. Hubert Upton (2 March 1968). "Wearable Eyeglass Speechreading Aid". American Annals of the Deaf. 113: 222–229. 
  18. C.C. Collins, L.A. Scadden, and A.B. Alden, "Mobile Studies with a Tactile Imaging Device," Fourth Conference on Systems & Devices For The Disabled, 1–3 June 1977, Seattle WA.
  19. Andre F. Marion, Edward A. Heinsen, Robert Chin, and Bennie E. Helmso, wrist instrument Opens New Dimension in Personal Information "Wrist instrument opens new dimension in personal information", Hewlett-Packard Journal, December 1977. See also HP-01 wrist instrument, 1977.
  20. Steve Mann, "An historical account of the 'WearComp' and 'WearCam' inventions developed for applications in 'Personal Imaging,'" in The First International Symposium on Wearable Computers: Digest of Papers, IEEE Computer Society, 1997, pp. 66–73
  21. "Wearable Computing: A First Step Toward Personal Imaging". IEEE Computer. 30 (2). 
  22. "The Winnebiko Two Adventure". microship.com. 
  23. J. Peter Bade, G.Q. Maguire Jr., and David F. Bantz, The IBM/Columbia Student Electronic Notebook Project, IBM, T. J. Watson Research Lab., Yorktown Heights, NY, 29 June 1990. (The work was first shown at the DARPA Workshop on Personal Computer Systems, Washington, D.C., 18 January 1990.)
  24. Simson Garfinkel (9 March 1993). "Dressed for Success" (PDF). The Village Voice: 51. 
  25. WearableGroup at Carnegie Mellon at the Wayback Machine (archived 27 September 2010)
  26. Steve Feiner, Blair MacIntyre, and Doree Seligmann, "Knowledge-based augmented reality," in Communications of the ACM, 36(7), July 1993, 52–62.
  27. "KARMA". columbia.edu. 
  28. Edgar Matias, I. Scott MacKenzie, and William Buxton, "Half-QWERTY: Typing with one hand using your two-handed skills," Companion of the CHI '94 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM, 1994, pp. 51–52.
  29. Edgar Matias, I. Scott MacKenzie and William Buxton, "A Wearable Computer for Use in Microgravity Space and Other Non-Desktop Environments," Companion of the CHI '96 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, ACM, 1996, pp. 69–70.
  30. Mik Lamming and Mike Flynn, "'Forget-me-not' Intimate Computing in Support of Human Memory" in Proceedings FRIEND21 Symposium on Next Generation Human Interfaces
  31. E.C. Urban, Kathleen Griggs, Dick Martin, Dan Siewiorek and Tom Blackadar, Proceedings of Wearables in 2005, Arlington, VA, 18–19 July 1996.
  32. Warwick,K, "I,Cyborg", University of Illinois Press, 2004
  33. "Sony SmartWatch". 
  34. Albanesius, Chloe (4 April 2012). "Google 'Project Glass' Replaces the Smartphone With Glasses". PC Magazine. Retrieved 4 April 2012. 
  35. Newman, Jared (4 April 2012). "Google's 'Project Glass' Teases Augmented Reality Glasses". PC World. Retrieved 4 April 2012. 
  36. Bilton, Nick (23 February 2012). "Behind the Google Goggles, Virtual Reality". The New York Times. Retrieved 4 April 2012. 
  37. By Brian X. Chen & Nick Bilton, The New York Times. "/ Building a Better Battery." 2 February 2014. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
  38. "Intel® Curie™ Module: Unleashing Wearable Device Innovation". Intel. 2015-01-06. Retrieved 11 September 2015. 
  39. "Eurotech Group: embedded boards, rugged systems for integrated solutions - high performance computing". arcom.com. 
  40. "Wristify: Thermal Comfort via a Wrist Band". Slice of MIT. Retrieved 2013-11-08. 
  41. "Project Glass - Google+ - We think technology should work for you—to be there when…". Plus.google.com. Retrieved 2013-02-26. 
  42. "Last week we told you we'd be trying out new ways to find Explorers. Well, we…". Plus.google.com. Retrieved 2015-01-07. 
  43. "Google Glass sales halted but firm says kit is not dead". BBC. Retrieved 2015-03-29. 
  44. Burns, Matt (5 June 2014). "The LG LifeBand Touch And HeartRate Earphones Are The Wonder Twins Of Activity Trackers". TechCrunch. 
  45. Kooser, Amanda (10 January 2013). "Fitness sensor earphones gather health data, deliver music". CNET. 
  46. Zieniewicz, Matthew J.; D. C. Johnson; D.C. Wong; J. D Flatt (2002). "The Evolution of Army Wearable Computers". Pervasive Computing. 4. 1: 30–40. doi:10.1109/mprv.2002.1158276. 
  47. Matthew Cox (23 June 2007). "Troops in Iraq give thumbs up to Land Warrior". Army Times. 

External links