Information Technology Essays – Wearable Computers

Wearable Computers

1.0 Introduction

Wearable computing has promised a lot since the turn of thenew millennium in fact it was even estimated that the industry would gain 360Billion dollars by 2003 (Wearable Computers, 2005). This figure has not beenachieved and there are no mass markets of wearable computers for differingapplications. There is however, an advancing future for this technology whichis taking a long time to gain public opinion. There are many differentapplications of wearable computers ranging from outdoor pursuits to medical andsecurity devices. For example, there are applications (Wearable Gear, 2004)such as ‘smart fabrics made for enhanced living’ which could be a scarf andmonitor pollution levels to be used as a kind of filter and direct people awayfrom harmful, tiring, poor quality air. Another example ‘Now, bras and pantiescry for help!’ is where sensors and integrated blue tooth communication devicescan detect when a rise in body temperature and/or heart rate occurs which isalso significant to a frightening moment and then alerts the emergency serviceswith location data and this alert can prevent serious crime by the emergencyservices reacting quickly and apprehend the committing criminals.

Wearable computers have the task of being seamless andhidden from show however at the same time they must be designed to withstandthe ruggedness of the chosen environment and interact as efficiently andaccurately as human would interact with other humans. This task may seem simplewhen in actual fact it possesses some technological hurdles such asminiaturisation and advanced algorithms which provide near perfect/perfectresults. Human users are not very tolerable when using computer or electronicequipment for instance; gone are the days when people would wait patiently fora code to be run and final output. Instead, people want instantaneous resultsdue to their busy everyday schedules be it getting to work or a social meetingbetween friends. Wearable computers have the task to make their own market suchas mobile phones as ten years ago mobile phones were considered a luxury itemand not a necessity. Today, the mobile phone is very much a necessity withglobal coverage and most people owning one. The wearable computer needs to bedesigned with a useful application in mind that will serve and aid humans well.Such applications could be a driving jacket which suggests the best route backhome taking the current congestion problems into consideration. The drivingjacket could be worn by anyone and applied to any vehicle. The driving jacketcould also have an interface where a mobile could be plugged in to ensure ahands free environment if someone wishes to call that person during transit. Thedesign of such an application has to take into consideration the safetyfeatures based on keeping mobiles either protected through shielding or awayfrom vital organs which maybe harmful. In addition, the Jacket could be worn bythe person walking to the car and could experience cold temperatures as well aswet weather. This system would therefore need to withstand this environment. Inaddition, the system would be out of display apart from microphones, earpiecesand Heads Up Display (HUD) and there would need to be functionality to informthe user of low battery to ensure the system is as reliable as possible and notbreak down when it is required most.

2.0 Outdoor Survival Pursuit Computer Wearable System

A wearable computer system that would be considered usefulis that of an ‘Outdoor Survival Pursuit Computer Wearable System.’ This systemwould not just be considered as useful to explorers but also to the armedforces. This system would be based on key functions listed in Chris Ryan’sUltimate Survival Guide (Ryan, 2003) such as it would needed to be fitted toeither a rucksack or preferably an all weather jacket. The system would be ableto handle a rugged environment such a bad, wet and cold weather, it would beenergy efficient using technology where the system recharges the battery fromthe friction of the person’s movement (QinetiQ Fuel Cell Show, 2003), thesystem would be able to detect sudden rapid heart beat or severe temperatureincrease/decrease which would then be connected to a GPS tracker andmobile/satellite communicator. This type of wearable computer would interfacewith the human through a blue tooth eyepiece heads-up-display and both bluetooth ear piece and microphone. Figure 1 illustrates the makeup of systemsdefining the Outdoor Survival Pursuit Computer Wearable System.

The heartbeat and body temperature monitoring kit would bealso woven into the jacket and such monitoring of high heart rate orincrease/decrease in body temperature would trigger the wearable computer andGPS tracker information system and then send this information along with themonitored medical information to the nearest emergency ‘SOS’ station forfurther assistance. To help locate the person in distress the coat would usebuilt in optic fibres to change from a dull military colour to a brightdistress colour (Colour Changing Clothes, 2004). As said before, this type ofsystem is very useful for the outdoors explorer or professional soldier howeverit still needs to be reliable and lightweight to ensure its success. The Coatitself would carry wires for heating and electrical current for changing thejacket colour dependent on the situation and blue tooth would be used to conveythe information from the body sensors. All of the systems mentioned are verymuch commercial off the shelf (COTS) products. The difficult part is to connectall these things together in the lightweight and reliable fashion.

Some of the technologies are being tried out with infantrysoldiers such as the advanced soldier program FIST, Future Infantry SoldierTechnology. Currently FIST (FIST, 2005) is in second phase of trails and isproving to be a real asset to soldiers albeit adhering to the constraints ofweight increase which can decrease an overall soldier’s performance. Thetechnology demonstrator will go through several stages before it is deliveredto the forces in 2015. It can be said therefore there are many trails needed toprove the reliability of this technology. The FIST system will provide thesoldier with a lot more technology than that stated by Outdoor Survival PursuitComputer Wearable System such as it will provide improved situationalawareness, lethality and survivability (FIST, 2005). With this increased amountof functionality there is a lot of time and analysis needed to prove thereliability of equipment in all aspects of warfare.

This type of system is very much needed for the survival ofany human expeditionary party albeit an explorer or a soldier and thereforeonly requires a small part of the functionality given by the FISPdemonstrators. The down side of the system is it only plays a part inemergencies and not everyday life therefore the jacket or rucksack is in partuseless for the majority of the time. The system however can act a securitymonitor if the owner was suddenly attacked thus utilising the heart and bodytemperature monitoring system. In addition, the jacket can be used to makephone calls in an everyday situation however should allow detachment whenindoors and in general use. As mentioned in the introduction, the jacket couldbe used for driving in allowing the driver to pick the best route based oncurrent congestion problems.

The following modules would therefore have to be miniaturein their design and reliable through continued robust testing, these modulesare: GPS tracker system, mobile/satellite phone communication system, bluetooth body sensors and monitoring system, wires for heat and colour/lightcharge, blue tooth earpiece microphone, eyepiece Heads Up Display (HUD) thatallows map and situational awareness data to be conveyed as well as allowingthe person to see through that information and woven material that can housesystems ergonomically and change colour due to distressful situations.

3.0 Technical limitations of user interfaces for wearable systems

There is currently a lot information discussing thelimitations of user interfaces for wearable systems such as that discussed byStarner (Starner, 1995) who states there is some huge advantage in developingsuch technology, in that it can support humans in everyday life and with only afew companies developing this technology the commercial realisation could be along time off. To get round some of the limitations, a technology drive forwearable computers must be well marketed. The limitations and market nondesirables go hand in hand which ultimately point to the size, weight and costof the system. The most important aspects of a wearable computer are theinterfaces between the human and computer and specifically, the speed andaccuracy of this interaction. For instance, with the example discussed inSection 2, it can be very frustrating when talking to a computer voice operatedautomated system and if it doesn’t seem to give you what you want in asufficient amount of time the user on the end of the phone becomes veryirritable and less satisfied as time progresses. Taking this observation intoconsideration, the human user would need to interact his/her commands by voicebut have a backup option to override this interface with a mini keyboard heldon the sleeve (mini keyboard would allow text to be communicated to thecomputer systems as well as using a scrollable mouse which most computer usersare familiar with today). To protect this keyboard and scrollable mouse fromloosing its functionality a flip down lid would be covered when not in use. Thevoice activated commands would need to be filtered from any background noiseand then translated as text to further provide keyword commands. This processis highly complex and with today’s voice recognition software and soundfiltering techniques it can be possible to obtain a voice activated computersystem. To that end, speed of the voice from the user to system can be aproblem as the user would have to speak clearly, as an order with pauses,everyday lazy language would present more of a problem and be lessdistinguishable.

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The system that was described in Section 2 could be modifiedto take onboard a digital camera and a recording module to allow image data tobe relayed to either storage or another user. With this voice recognition andaudio/image recording facility it is possible for the user to be having aSunday walk and record a phenomena of interest backed up with a written logthat is translated from voice to text. This convenient computer system couldlog novel ideas and a particular experience recorded. Again this particularmodification is very useful for future soldier technology such as FIST alsodiscussed in Section 2. With more functionality the problem of interaction andaccuracy becomes more of a problem however with dedicated menus such as thoseseen on current mobile phones it is possible to get round these problems witheach application designed to its full potential and with integration in mindfor the final product. All of the technologies discussed are currently availablealbeit they are single applications and bulky in nature. The challenges facedin integrating this functionality together in a small, lightweight and friendlypackage is significant.

The eyepiece technology today can provide the user withscreen like information and be projected to the user’s eye about a foot away.If however the user want to look at the real world (i.e. look at the given HUDinformation as passing information) he/she just looks through the projectedimage and looks normally at the surrounding terrain.

Voice recognition would have to be broken down intodedicated modules for instance driving the menus and functional commands shoulduse a very accurate independent voice recognition system that is fully linkedto eyepiece Virtual Reality imagery. Dictating memos or advanced requests wouldneed to be translated through a different voice recognition system that isdependent of the user’s voice and tailored to learning new features as thereare still limitations for computers to fully understand independent everydayvoice language (Evans, 2003). The technology is certainly improving as Evans(Evansm 2003) discusses the BBC have significantly cut down subtitling by usingthe 20/20 Speech Ltd’s software, Aurix. This is perhaps one of the most powerspeech recognisers around however the BBC still require profession subtitlersto correct mistakes made by difficult interpretable speech. In short, speechrecognition has some way to go in being fully able to recognise independenteveryday speech.

Tidwell (Tidwell et al, 1995) discusses that currenteyepiece technology can project screen information with near monitor screengraphics albeit to the detriment in a loss of resolution. To that end, graphicscould be conveyed in 2D map format along with textual data in both an accurateand informative manner and this would suffice for the Outdoor Survival PursuitComputer Wearable System. For the application outlined in Section 2, currenttechnology would support the required demands.

4.0 Ten Important human factors associated with wearable computers

The following ten factors associated with wearable computersare listed in order of priority of functionality.

Accuracy and speed of interface between human and computer




Withstand rugged environment


Power consumption

Backup interface capability such as keyboard interaction asapposed to just visual and audio interface capability

Ergonomics with wearable garment

Capability in terms of extra functionality

It is considered that a wearable computer must be able tocommunicate to and from the human and computer. This is considered the mostimportant factor as this is the very essence and fundamental building blockbehind any specific wearable computing application. Usability can be attributedto using common everyday metaphors and ensure the command menus are easy to useand navigate through. If however, the system is difficult to use the user willbecome less comfortable and he/she will be more inclined to use and old, albeittried equipment. For any mobile application the next human factors are size andweight, if the system is too large and heavy it can be both undesirable andbecome a hindrance more than an asset. The ease of use is also a very importantfactor, this is because of the very nature behind everyday human in that theyare less patient than in pre-home computer years and require quick and accurateresults for successful satisfaction. With all wearable items the possibility ofwearing them outside rather than indoors is a much more likely scenario andthere is a need for these systems to be able to withstand moist, cold and evenhard impact situations.

The next important factor is reliability it is far better tohave a system with less functionality and its reliability to as near to 100% aspossible. If however, a system is not very reliable the user will become lessdependent on the system and in short would not trust the system in apotentially dangerous scenario.

Reliability and power consumption are different entities intheir own right but with a wearable computer they certainly go hand in handwith each other. Ideally the system must have low power consumption with a longbattery life that is distributed as efficiently as possible. In addition, forprolonged life the power cells would run off natural resources to rechargebatteries for continued use, this technology is currently being looked at inthe FIST program (FIST, 2005).

Having a backup facility to be able to communicate to theapplications is fairly important as the user could lose the functionality ofthe primary interfaces and lose the total functionality of the system. With abackup interface system such as a small keyboard and scrollable mouse, thesystem has a secondary mode of interaction as well an alternative if the userrequires a change of interaction from the primary interface.

For a wearable computer system, the whole system must bedeveloped with the ergonomics of clothing in mind. For instance, the systemmust fit neatly and out of sight within the garment. Therefore ergonomics ofthe design is important for commercial acceptance of system otherwise, thesystem is not really a wearable computer.

Capability however is less desirable than reliability as itsbest to have a fully working system with less functionality than an unreliableenhanced functionality system. This particular priority of human factors isalso adopted by the armed forces (FIST, 2005).

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When considering the interaction interface between human andcomputer there are several factors (HCI, 2004) to take into consideration,which also address usability. put people first, understand how people usetechnology, achieve efficient, effective and safe interaction and usability(ease of use); easy to learn, easy to remember how to use, effective to use,efficient to use, safe to use and enjoyable to use.

Expanding on usability further there are four main factorswhich affect usefulness of usability these are; format of input where theinformation conveyed around the system must be common throughout and notapplication specific, feedback to the user must be as informative and useful aspossible, visibility of what is happening, i.e. any change of state conveyed ifimportant and affordance such as using a good metaphor as that of the desktopwhere people put books and applications (computer etc) which is also similar tothe computer desktop metaphor where icons are used instead of books andapplications. Good affordance means if the user does the most natural action andit is the correct action.

5.0 Wearable Computer providing real benefit rather than gimmick value

The application of the Outdoor Survival Pursuit ComputerWearable System is an example that will provide real benefit to an explorer orsoldier stranded in some unforgiving terrain. This application can be modifiedand adapted for different application use such as that used by a police or fireman requiring a multi purpose facility in gaining situational awareness. Forexample, such a wearable system could provide extra functionality through anadd-on modular device which can log video data as well as relaying informationback based on the changing situation, such as the patient you are attending ina car crash is unconscious, trapped and cold. This information would alertother emergency services and would keep people informed of the situation athand. In addition, traffic, air ambulance information could also be relayed asassets to use depending on the situation worsening. Very similar to themilitary soldier in the field, information relating to other allied forces inthe area and air power could be relayed to ensure no unnecessary friendly killsare not made. Wearable computers can have a wide and varied functionalityalbeit one general one which acts as a survival aid, general recoding device oftext and imagery, communications through various mediums giving voice andInternet access and last but not least, geographical information of where youare currently and where you would like to go next.

There are other wearable systems that are used to supporteveryday medical synopsis for instance Suenaga (Suenaga et al, 2004) discussesusing a mobile ultrasound device that takes heart readings and scans toidentify problems before they turn into possible fatal problems such as aterminal disease. This system is currently very bulky albeit wearable as aconcept demonstrator but for mass commercial application it would have to beminiaturised and be designed to fit in with any jacket or rucksack. Theadvantages of having such a system would help people to have more confidence intheir well being and cut down patients waiting to see General Practioners(GPs). This cut down of people waiting would take the emphasis away possibleproblem cases which are otherwise OK to more severe cases which requireconsultation and immediate surgery.

Such wearable medical systems could be connected to hospitalmainframes alerting ambulance crews if a problem were detected and wasconsidered life threatening. For people with a diagnosed illnesses this type ofsystem could prolong their life, for example a patient who has suffered a heartattack could be monitored and the information relayed back to the hospitalwould allow the patient to call up his/her GP and discuss any problem that wasconcerning to the patient. Online data helps professionals diagnose problemsthat much easier than when they are faced with the user trying to describe theproblem they are experiencing over the phone.

6.0 Environmental factors and impact on wearable computers

The Outdoor Survival Pursuit Computer Wearable Systemdiscussed in Section 2 would have to be designed to withstand very coldtemperatures and even hot temperatures as experienced by desert conditions. Inaddition, the system must be not just be waterproof but also moisture proof,this is because moisture can still cause short circuits or even rust andprovide breakages of less robust pieces of kit. The system would also have tobe rugged in design to withstand being dropped or even stepped on duringmanoeuvres in the dark. For moisture control salt crystals can be attached tothe inside of the system casting. For waterproofing the system this wouldrequire rubber seals with a silicone coated spray. The casing would be shockresistant material and light weight in nature similar to the material usedwithin shock resistant diver’s watches. The system electronics would use solidstate devices and no moveable parts such as hard disks instead RAM and ROMchips would be used. There would be no wires transferring information fromsensors to systems, instead blue tooth technology would be used. The wires forheating and changing fabric colour would be woven as waterproof material intothe jacket fabric. The jacket itself would be designed to withstand harshconditions given by all possible weather conditions.

Matias (Matias, 1996) discusses using a wearable computer ina completely different environment that of space where gravity is zero. Thecomputer this time has to still be lightweight and small but there is adifferent emphasis of using a strap-on half QWERTY keyboard for interfaceinteraction. This keyboard is strapped on due to it being very difficult totype in zero gravity conditions. The interaction between keyboard andcomputer/Visual Display Unit (VDU) are connected via blue tooth due too manywires being a problem to other spacecraft systems and getting in the way ofimportant work. The design factors for this type of wearable system were asfollows: minimise training, minimize fatigue, minimize weight and minimisepower consumption. In space the environment can be very frustrating when tryingto use systems that are designed for the earth and therefore have to beredesigned and tested for zero gravity conditions. For instance, if anastronaut was using a system which contained a hard drive or other moveableparts when the system was used in training on the earth the system would workto specification, however when the system was used in space it would than likelymalfunction from the heads moving away from the readable the disk in the zerogravity conditions. In addition, space constraints are very important asspacecrafts are very small and there is no room for bulky equipment. Againreliability would be an important factor as well as the functionality, such aspace wearable computer would need to relay information of key systems such analert to a possible power failure or penetration of paint flack from previousspacecraft missions which is a real problem during space travel.

7.0 Problem of mis-registration with wearable computers

Mis-registration is a common problem with wearable computersas the input devices that are commonly used in computers can not be used inAugmented Reality (AR) to supply Virtual Reality (VR) with real world updates.There is currently a lot of research in this area (Thomas, 2004) however theproblems of taking the indoor environment to the outdoor environment haveproved to be a huge leap. The leap is due to current systems not behavingcorrectly because of non-suitable inputs and therefore a lot of AR research islooking into different input devices that do not rely on fixed points and aremore versatile to mis-registration problems. If these registration problems arenot solved they are amplified from the conversion of real world to theaugmented world coordinates and this will certainly be picked up by the user.The AR systems of the future will use a number of co-ordinate systems to getround the problem of mis-registration for instance; physical world, augmentedworld, body relative and screen relative co-ordinate systems. Thomas (Thomas,2004) states that there are numbers of hurdles to be overcome for wearablecomputers to become a commercially huge success and this problem ofmis-registration of information from the input to computer device is a realproblem with wearable computers. There needs to be a solution that addressesall the problems of updating, correctly identifying objects, understanding thescenery and more importantly, be able to work in a real time environmentcontinually updating with new information.

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With the Outdoor Survival Pursuit Computer Wearable Systemthe input system is primarily audio and secondary, small keyboard. Both systemscan have mis- classification problems due to doing too many tasks at once andbecoming information overloaded. For instance, if the user has asked for GPSinformation and then asks for communication to another location in the world,the computer can have too much to do and buffers can be rapidly filled up,resulting in the system becoming very slow and even crashing due to too muchinformation overload. To that end, this is a real problem to most desktopcomputers and therefore, more of a problem for wearable computers as they willbe smaller and have much more to do in terms of interaction. For example, theinformation overload problem just discussed is experienced from the keyboardinteraction input, if however the computer has to translate spoken language andfilter out background noise in real time, the system can quite easily becomeoverloaded and mis-classifications leading to mis-registrations can occur veryeasily. Therefore command scrollable language needs to be different and heldwithin a different module to normal language to text memo interaction. Howeverthe latter memo voice translation can help the former in learning new tasks orcommands. By keeping these two separate, the more important command module isdedicated to a much smaller vocabulary that is also speaker independent andtherefore more accurate. This would mean the computer system is less amenableto suffering from mis-registration problems.

The Outdoor Survival Pursuit Computer Wearable System isdesigned to have a lot of modules which can have a real impact on the usabilityof the system with too much being accessed all at once the mis-registrationproblems will become more common. To get round this problem, the VR eyepiecewould convey 2D map data which is suffice for location and situational awarenessinformation. The user would only be able to activate only two applications atany one time for instance GPS and mobile communications. If it could activatethe other functionality at the same time, one the battery power would dischargefaster and two, the system would be more prone to mis-registration problems.In addition, the system must monitor the battery power and if it is too low tooperate the system should signify this information and keep the user from usingthe system until the system has recharged to a safe level of operating power.Of course the system would still be able to be used for emergencies when inthis mode. The power requirements are very important as mis-registrations canexist when power is low within the system.

To get around the problem of mis-registration someresearchers are looking at using AR pens to update information. In this casethe pen and tablet can replace the keyboard and mouse in terms of textual anddrawing input. This could be a very good system input for secondary backup ofthe application discussed in Section 2 however, some wearable computers likethe Outdoor Survival Pursuit Computer Wearable System are made for the outdoorsand it’s more appropriate to use audio whilst on the move instead of pen andtablet whilst stationary.

8.0 Conclusion

This report has looked at a number of different factorsconcerning wearable computers. The wearable computer that was decided as auseful computer was the Outdoor Survival Pursuit Computer Wearable System. Thissystem would use proven separate entity technology and would be integratedtogether which presents a challenge to getting all these modules to correctlyinteract in an efficient, accurate and safe manner. Clearly looking at the sizeand weight constraints there is a hurdle for wearable computers to overcome. Tothat end a lot of research is looking into this problem with alternatives innano-technology. In addition, there is the problem of mis-registration from theinput to the computer interaction. This can be seen in AR visual systems aswell as keyboards and the like. Wearable computers are certainly the computersystem of the future. People are more interested in having a computer they cantake everywhere and carryout tasks when they are bored and feel they should bedoing some work before going out. If the systems are always in place to carryout work then more work would get done. Clearly for wearable computers to takeoff and the proposed system of the Outdoor Survival Pursuit Computer WearableSystem there needs to be more modifications and, better input interactiondevices. If the problems of wearable computers can be addressed and ironed out,the wearable computer could become the next biggest technology revolution afterthe mobile phone. It is very important the manufacturers and designers listento the people and their requirements as many people thought palm tops wouldbecome a necessity and only really a few businessmen have thus the systems areperhaps more gimmick than an important supporting piece of kit. The wearablecomputer must become the most integral piece of kit the user users for aparticular application and to ensure its success for example; there is need foronly one diary planner system and not several diaries such as having a PDA,mobile phone and hard back diary as the user would not know which one toupdate. One system at any one time would allow that system to contain the mostup to date information and would become more reliable in the eyes of the user


This report was more interested in discussing an OutdoorSurvival Pursuit Computer Wearable System which is specifically designed forsurvival and gaining key information whilst on outdoor manoeuvres. In many ofthe sections normal computer functions have been talked about and in an everydayenvironment the Outdoor Survival Pursuit Computer Wearable System could beconsidered as an overkill and may need to be modified through some modulereduction and module replacement such as more general computing facilities andless emergency type equipment however the communication systems and the othersystems are all integral to a sound working general wearable computer.


C. Ryan, Chris Ryan’s Ultimate Survival Guide,Century, 2003, p24,Colour Changing Clothes, December 2004

M.J. Evans, Speech Recognition in Assisted and LiveSubtitling for Television, BBC R&D White Paper (WHP 065), July 2003, FutureInfantry Soldier Technology (FIST), 2005,Introduction to Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Bell College,2004

E. Matias, I. S. MacKenzie, & W. Buxton, Awearable computer for use in microgravity space and other non-desktopenvironments. Companion of the CHI ’96 Conference on Human Factors inComputing Systems (pp. 69-70). 1996, New York: ACM.,QinetiQ showcases its fuel cell technology offerings at this year’s GroveFuel Cell Show (QinetiQ Fuel Cell Show), September 2003,

T. Starner, The Cyborgs are Coming or The RealPersonal Computers, Wired Magazine, June 1995,

T. Suenaga, H. Sasaki, Y. Masuda, M. Imuraa, Y. Yasumuro, A. Yutani,

Y. Manabea, O. Oshiro and K. Chihara, Wearable ultrasounddevice for ubiquitous medical care environments, International CongressSeries 1268 (2004) 265- 270

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