(Display Name not set)September 2003 Archives

a wearable by any other name...

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This past summer, I4U reported on a jacket being developed by Pioneer. The arm of the jacket has an organic film electro-luminescent (translation: thin and flexible) display.

In a 2001 Taipei Times article, the fashion designer behind the jacket said, "You can't just bring together existing things like a coat and all the machines with adaptors, batteries, and so on ... You have to invent new products..." In another article she said that previous wearable-PC attempts have flopped because "computer engineers focused more on chips than hips." Wanting to move away from the connotations of wearable computers, she has coined the term "media fashion," which I actually haven't heard used anywhere else.

In her Masters thesis, Megan Galbraith from MIT makes a similar distinction between wearable computers and computational garment design. "Computational garment design concerns itself with the aesthetics of garments enhanced by technology or innovative materials with reactive properties. ... Wearable computing, on the other hand, is concerned with the functionality, robustness, and usability of the technology as it inhabits spaces on the body. ... Wearable computers tend to be considered a fashion faux pas."

It seems to me that the differences we currently perceive between engineering and fashion as they relate to wearable computing are just a byproduct of merging these two previously disparate fields. Still, will the terms by which we refer to wearable technology make a difference in the acceptance and adoption of new wearable products? Sounds like a research study in the making...

P.S. A Japanese technology professor in the Taipei Times article compared the idea of merging electronics and fashion with the shift in thinking that happened when people realized that the earth revolved around the sun. Hmmm. A little melodramatic?

- Thanks to Kevin and Micah for the links!

Nokia Imagewear

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Yesterday Gizmodo reported on a new phone design and several photo accessories from Nokia. The accessories include two necklaces to which you can upload digital pictures (from your Nokia camera phone, of course). Both models consist of a steel frame with a 96 x 96 pixel display. The Medallion I has its frame housed in a "daring choker" made of either steel or matte rubber and the Medallion II frame hangs around you neck or wrist from a leather cord.

My friend Kenneth says, "It's crazy and crazy. What I find interesting (among other things) is that their marketing photos show a man wearing the medallions. Do they think it's too gadgety to appeal to women? I wonder how much they will cost, and if fashion magazines will like them or dismiss them as gadgets."

The still photos contrast with Nokia's promo video, which shows women ó not men ó wearing the devices, but I'm guessing the steel frame will likely appeal to a male audience or to males and females who go for an urban look. I'm sure the decision to market them as "medallions" instead of "necklaces" reflects Nokia's own idea of who their target audience will be.

Regardless of whether the initial style appeals to the fashion sense of the masses, these necklaces are an extremely exciting development in wearable design. Expect to see them in late 2003 and early 2004.

- Thanks to Kenneth (yes, I promise to start reading Gizmodo regularly) and Kevin for the links!

speaking of pockets...

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The ScotteVest (actually a jacket that converts to a vest) "allows users to discretely carry multiple electronic devices in the concealed, ergonomically designed pocket system." The jacket/vest has a patent-pending "Personal Area Network", which is just a hidden channel in the fabric through which you snake your headphone wires. (I've seen this feature in other jackets and am kind of surprised that it's patent-pending. I'm also surprised they're calling it a Personal Area Network, as this is a wireless term.)

It says that you can carry "digital cameras, portable keyboards, GPS devices, small laptop computers, two-way radios, bottled water, airplane tickets, magazines, wallets, keys, and much more". I've talked to some people who think pockets are the answer to wearable computing, but I'm not sold. First, I'm sure this jacket/vest weighs at least 73 pounds when loaded with all this gear. Second, a heavy, clunky torso is not exactly a fashion ideal for either men or women.

This product may currently fill a need for gadget heads, but it can't be the long term solution.

small = wearable?

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Today Gizmodo complained about the quality of the new digital camera from Philips. I have a different beef.

Philips bills the device as a "camera key ring" and "wearable digital camera". They have a similarly designed audio player billed as an "audio key ring" and "wearable digital audio". A note on that product page says, "Let's face it. It's all about size and it's how you wear it."

How do you "wear" a key ring? My keys get tossed into my purse or backpack and sometimes go into my pants pocket. So if things that I can put into my pocket qualify as "wearable", then we should add the following items to this category: pens, highlighters, post-it notes, tampons, credit cards, coins, matches, gum, receipts, lipstick... I could go on.

Ok, the devices each come with a necklace strap so that you can wear them around your neck, but come on, people have been wearing cameras on straps around their necks for decades. Granted, the size of the new Philips camera makes this a little easier, but I think describing it as "ready to wear" is pushing the matter.

Wearable devices need to be designed with consideration for the human body, both at rest and in motion. Small does not equal wearable.

- Thanks for the link, Kenneth!

rain

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A few years ago Elise Co from the MIT Media Lab was working on a luminescent raincoat. It had panels that would light up when they got wet, mirroring the pattern of the raindrops.

Interactive rain gear has since made it out of academia and onto the runway. The June 2003 issue of Wired featured a transparent raincoat from Prada that becomes opaque when it gets wet from rain or perspiration. Miuccia Prada says, "Every piece of clothing shapes your body but also the space around you, the emptiness around you. This raincoat, from our 2002 winter collection, plays off that divide. ... It changes the relationship between what's inside and outside."

I'm not crazy about the perspiration thing, but I really like the idea of clothing responding to environmental factors like rain in a whimsical way.

can you hire me now?

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CMU held a technical job fair yesterday. It was pretty miserable for those of us in HCI, and particularly so for those of us who want to specialize within the field.

Just to relate one experience, I approached a recruiter from a major wireless provider, which shall remain nameless (err, well nearly nameless). I explained that I was interested in wearable computing and that I was sure his company would be looking into wearable technology in the near future if they weren't already. He said, "No, we're not going to be getting into that."

Now I realize that wireless providers don't make their own hardware, but they've got to be aware that wearables are on the horizon. A report by Thinking Materials says that "Wearing a mobile phone instead of carrying one in your pocket will make you use the phone more often." Don't tell me wireless providers aren't interested in how often people use their phones.

Figuring that wearables just weren't on this guy's radar, I asked if he'd take my resume and he said, "No." No?! C'mon, it was a job fair after all...

electronic t-shirts

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Cyberdog, a company that appears to be devoted to progressive clothing and techno music, is selling electonic t-shirts. (To find them, click on "t-shirts" and then "light-tee s/s" or "light vests".) Their designs include one with a 32-character programmable scolling message on the chest and another with a sound-activated graphic equalizer. Unfortunately they only have a picture of the scrolling message tee, though there are animations for the rest. I can't decide if these shirts are cool or goofy. Maybe they're both.

Something I don't hear much about is how you wash this type of clothing. Cyberdog says that each shirt comes with a battery pack and plug in module, the removal of which I would assume makes the shirts washable, but I'm not completely sure about that.

If you visit their site, it's worth taking five minutes to look through the rest of their clothes. A few things interest me, like their long drape skirt, but clearly I am not in their target audience! Still, it's fun for a look.

BBC article rehash

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Several people have sent me links to or about the recent BBC article covering the Eurowearable 03 conference. Roland Piquepaille pulls out snippets from the original article for those who don't feel like reading the whole thing.

A post on gizmodo was dismissive, stating "the biggest reason why wearable computing hasn't taken off is that the clothes are usually ugly." My friend Megan had the same reaction when she looked at the illuminating dress that I mentioned in a previous post. Yes, as excited as I am about this dress, I admit the fabric is not something you long for in an evening dress. Or a sundress. Or any dress really. But the illuminating dress is important because it's an attempt, and an excellent one at that, to bridge the gulf between fashion and engineering.

The BBC article says that "much ... does not make it out of the engineer's lab or off the fashion designer's sketch pad". Clearly this will need to change in order for the field to move forward and I get the feeling that it's already happening. This is actually where I hope to position myself when I graduate next year.

- from Micah, John, and Haven. Thanks! :o)

feeling good

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Megan Galbraith, from the Aesthetics & Computation Group at the MIT Media Lab, showed her illuminating dress in the Wear Me exhibition that was part of Eurowearable 03.

The dress, named Elroy, is shown in a short feel-good video (6.2MB) that will make you want to either buy one of these dresses or make one yourself! OK, well that's what it did for me. The captions read, "The panels rearrange patterns depending on the time. It's about a relationship between you and your wardrobe. It's not about computers strapped to your arm. It's about bringing the world of fashion into the 21st century. Because what we wear should make us feel good. And if it doesn't, it should change."

Megan has created so many amazing things and her website is a treasure trove for anyone excited about wearables and fashion. Especially worth checking out are her page on computational fashion concepts and her Masters thesis entitled Embedded Systems for Computational Garment Design. Go! Go Now!

groove bag

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Have an iPod? Want to blast your music out on the street? Concerned about what the local fashionistas might think? Worry no more! Dr. Bott is selling two speaker bags that let you "take your iPod out in Gucci-style".

These incognito boom boxes were featured on style.com a few months ago. "When an accessory lets you flaunt your style, musical taste and tech skills and carry everything you need for the day, you know that form and function haveófinallyófallen in love."

CMU at ISWC in NYC

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Neema and I are representing Carnegie Mellon at this year's International Symposium on Wearable Computers, which is taking place in October just outside of New York City.

Neema's going to be presenting a context-aware mobile phone that was developed by a group of students in CMU's rapid prototyping class. He'll also talk about his user research on the interruptibility of mobile phone users and other aspects of the project.

I'll be presenting research I did this spring on the link between the functionality and perceived comfort of wearable devices. The gist is that subjects' comfort ratings changed depending on what we told them a wearable device did! There were also differences in comfort ratings between device locations (arm and back) and between genders.

digital bracelet

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This spring I bought a Nike watch. I love its clean design and its translucent black body with lime green accents. I also love that there's a little screen saver-esqe animation that pops up from time to time. But most of all I love how it attaches to my wrist -- two flexible arms reach around and cling to my wrist with soft plastic pads. I justified my purchase by telling myself that the design and new attachment style were important innovations for a 100-year-old wearable device.

I just found out this morning that this watch won a silver medal in the consumer products division of the 2003 Industrial Design Excellence Awards. The Presto Digital Bracelet, as it's called, has "an ergonomic fit that is defined by three points of contact with the wrist and is made of lightweight polymer to provide flexibility and expansion. ... Ergonomic fit and polymer create a watch the user forgets they are wearing." Oh yes.

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