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Wearable Computing Devices – Technology Features, Working and Evolution History

With rapid advancements in technology we have evolved from mainframe computers to desktops, laptops, smartphones and further to Glass Technology or say Wearable Computing Device. This maturity of technology in computing world have changed from heads down to heads up. This post will discuss about Wearable Computing Devices, its technology, features, how it works, evolution history and some most popular wearable devices.

What is Wearable Computing Technology

Wearable Computing is a term that alludes to computer operated gadgets or hardware. Wearable Computing is the analysis with regards to developing, outlining, or utilizing smaller than usual body borne computational gadgets.

Wearable Computing Devices

Fig. 1 – Wearable Computing Devices

As the name implies wearable, so the computing equipment can be worn under or in the form of clothes. The gadget worn is always on, always accessible, and always connected.

What are Wearable Computing Devices

Wearable computing device is a portable computer which is incorporated into the space of user, can be worn anywhere around the body and are hands free to use. Wearable computing devices can be embedded into everyday wearable objects which are persistently worn.

The key characteristics that define wearable computing devices are:

  • Portable while Operation.
  • Enables hands free and hands limited use.
  • Always with the user, or acting on behalf of the user.
  • Able to get user’s attention.
  • Able to sense user’s current context.The person operating or using the device is able to enter and execute command(s) while involved in any physical activity.

Wearable Computing Device Attributes

Fig. 2 – Wearable Computing Devices Attributes

Features of Ideal Wearable Computing Devices

  • Consistency: The signal flows from human to computer and computer to human uninterruptedly to provide constant user interface.
  • Persistence: These wearables are designed for everyday and continuous use over a lifetime.
  • Enhancement: The assumption of the wearable computing is that the user is occupied with some other task along with computing. Thus, the gadget should serve to enhance the intellect or augment the senses.
  • Convenient: It should be convenient to user.
  • Unrestrictive: Wearable devices enable a person to do multitasking.
  • Interact seamlessly: Adapts its input and output modalities to those most appropriate at the time.

How Wearable Computing Devices Work

Wearable computing devices are amongst most predictable devices to boom the market in coming years. Before we try to understand which devices are a part of this technology, it is important to understand how they work as a whole.

In Wearable Computers, KEYERS (key switches mounted to a grip, rather than a board unlike a keyboard) and trackballs are used as input devices. These wearable variants tend to have sensors which can detect, monitor and track various things.

Wearable Computing Block Diagram

Fig. 3 – Wearable Computing Block Diagram

Along with input through devices there are wearable computers which takes input through resources like gesture, speech recognition or context awareness. Most sensors can track motion and various other activities of the body such as activity of the brain, heart and muscle.

The outputs may be displayed through lights, sounds, flat panels or even haptic interfaces. Some systems which work on mediated reality (ability to modify one’s perception of reality) can also be considered wearable computers.

History of Wearable Computing Devices

Since early 1500s, when watches came into the picture, some sort of computing device is worn, be it a time calculator or an abacus. These Wearable devices serve as an ornament and as computing device too.

A wearable abacus in the form of a ring have been found which dates back to Chinese Qing Dynasty (1616-1911 BC). This abacus ring is almost 300 years old piece of wearable technology. This is definitely the predecessor of today‘s Gesture controlled rings which can do just everything which you can think of an smartphone to do.

Abacus Ring An Early Wearable Computing Device

Fig. 4 – Abacus Ring : An Early Wearable Computing Device

Later in 1961, Ed Thorp and Shannon made a wearable timing device for roulette prediction. It gives an audio feedback and has four button input.

Roulette Predictor

Fig. 5 – Roulette Predictor

In 1970s and early 1980s, a number of general purpose wearable computing gadgets were proposed and built by Steve Mann. Later in 1981 he designed and made a backpack based multimedia system with a head mounted display visible to one eye.

A wide range of frameworks were outlined and worked by Mann in the 1980s, and this denoted a relentless development in wearable devices by late 1990s.

Evolution of  Steve Mann’s Wearable Computing Devices

Fig. 6 – Evolution of Steve Mann’s Wearable Computing Devices

Popular Wearable Computing Devices

Some of the popular types of wearable computing devices along with its purpose and technology are as follows:

Land Warrior System

It is an integrated system developed for US military. The Land warrior system is a navigation system installed on body of the soldier. It comprises of GPS and a pedometer dead reckoning system.

Land Warrior System Overview

Fig. 7 – Land Warrior System Overview

The power system is either disposable or rechargeable batteries. The computer operates on windows OS and Intel Strong Arm processor. The battlefield software is installed on the computer.

A Multi Band Intra and Inter Team Radio (MBITR), integrated into the vest allows voice communications between infantry soldiers.


It was launched in 1995 and is recognized as the first face computer. It consists of a wearable headset with a computer over one eye. This small computer is connected with a thick wire to a large box of electronics through a utility belt. The utility belt holds the computer’s hard drive, microprocessor, battery and mouse.

Mobile Assistant Computer

Fig. 8 – Mobile Assistant Computer

The innovation, however, was not so successful because of various reasons such as contraptions cumbersomeness, restricted usefulness and poor battery execution. The year 2002 witnessed the release of the new version of this gadget which was lighter, less expensive model. This new wearable computing device was known as POMA (Personal Media Appliance).

Smart Watches

The watches which were confined to show only time have now become smart with a variety in functionality to offer the world. Today’s smart watches are undoubtedly the most popular among all wearable computing devices.

They are offering quite a lot of functions such as in built GPS, Pedometer, Heart rate monitor, BP Monitor, Calling, Messaging, Physical training monitor, gesture control, etc.

Figure below shows how a simple analog watch evolved into a powerful smart watch in chronological order.

Hierarchy of Advancements in Watches

Fig. 9 – Hierarchy of Advancements in Watches

Recon Jet

Recon jet is a head up display. It is used for games that unobtrusively conveys significant data promptly. Recon features a microcomputer and a full color display, which is intended for dynamic outdoor usage. These are mounted on high performance polarized sports eye wear.

Recon jet Smart Eyewear and its Displayed View

Fig. 10 – Recon jet Smart Eyewear and its Displayed View

It provides a crisp and high quality display equivalent to a big screen viewed from a distance of 7 feet. It also have a built in camera to capture photos and videos instantly.

This wearable computing device holds a smart phone class processor and built-in GPS with intellectual capacity sensors. It uses a smartphone and Bluetooth or ANT+ sensors to retrieve more data.

Google Glass

Google glass is a smart eyewear that a person wear like a pair of normal glasses. It uses a hands free information access mechanism. A touchpad is located on the side of the Google Glass, allowing users to control the device by swiping through a timeline like interface displayed on the screen. The interaction is through voice.

Google Glass and its Applications

Fig. 11 – Google Glass and its Applications

The interface used is intuitive i.e. the input given is through touch, gestures, speech, head motion etc. It provides access to internet. Google glass is a wearable computing device that has blend of communication and computing both. The data is always available on a peripheral display.

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Arisha Salman
Arisha Salman
Arisha is an MCA and BSc (IT) and has work experience as PGT Computer Science. She is an author, editor and partner at Electricalfundablog.
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