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Nomadic advertising

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When I first saw a picture of people wearing ads displayed on LCDs over their heads, I thought they looked ridiculous. This was partially based on my preference that wearable computing not turn into a vehicle for ubiquitous walking ads. A lot of it had to do with the rest of their outfits, which included large white shoulder harnesses, silver helmets, large orange sunglasses, sleeveless orange jumpsuits and matching wristbands.

But there's another version of this type of "nomadic advertising" that I think is interesting.

The PIXMAN system consists of an LCD suspended over the wearer's head by a pole that's attached to a backpack. This attachment style makes a big difference. There's something extremely goofy-looking about a monitor attached directly to a helmet. But the PIXMAN's LCD-on-a-pole seems more like an alien appendage, and I mean that in the nicest way possible.

Now I do have to say that the systems look pretty heavy. But they weren't designed to be worn by just anyone. The wearers are professional performers. And the dark urban costumes, whose inspiration seems to be a blend of Magritte, the Matrix and some sort of snowboarder militia, offer an overall look that just oozes cool. A mob of these folks coming down the street must be pretty effective.

So I guess I'm saying that if there's going to be wearable advertising, I'll take mine as performance art.

Strangely familiar

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The Carnegie Museum of Art is currently hosting an exhibit called Strangely Familiar: Design and Everyday Life. From the exhibit brochure: "Design is a paradoxical presence in our lives, both invisible and conspicuous, familiar and strange. It surrounds us but fades from view, becomes second nature yet remains seemingly unknowable. Broadly conceived as the world of human-made artifacts, design is literally everywhere. Despite this ubiquity, we seldom experience objects, messages, and spaces to provoke deeper questions about how we choose to live..."

The projects in Strangely Familiar rethink the traditional role of design in everyday life. A few are particularly relevant to the topics of fashion and technology.

The Transformables line of clothing from C.P. Company consists of protective rain garments that transform into items such as a tent, kite, or inflatable armchair. (To view the line, click through their homepage to the archive.)

From the Fortune Cookies design group comes Felt 12x12, small gray felt squares that consumers can combine in ways that suit their own needs or styles. The group believes that "a designer's role in society is to create a framework, within which consumers can define shape and form for themselves." Watch their movie and see creations that range from aprons and hats to hot dog holders.

The Placebo Project is an investigation into people's attitudes towards electromagnetic fields. The Nipple Chair has two protrusions in the back that vibrate when the chair is in an electromagnetic field. The 25 compasses set into the top of the Compass Table spin when a cell phone is placed on it. The Electro-draught Excluder, though it looks like it might protect you from electromagnetic fields, actually does nothing but induce strange behavior as you try to hide behind it.

If you're not able to experience this fantastic exhibit in person, buy the book.

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.

I just saw an ad for Gateway flat panel LCD TVs. It said, "Your big fat bloated TV went out of fashion with, well, big fat bloated TVs."

In The End of Fashion, Teri Agins says, "fashion, by definition is ephemeral and elusive, a target that keeps moving. ... Traditionally, the fashion system has revolved around the imperative of planned obsolescence." I doubt that original developers of CRTs were evilly plotting the introduction of LCDs 50 years later, though that's not to say that LCD manufacturers are above exploiting what now looks and feels like a dated technology.

Agins also says, "Today, a designerís creativity expresses itself more than ever in the marketing rather than in the actual clothes. Ö In a sense, fashion has returned to its roots: selling image. Image is the form and marketing is the function." Technology companies can play this game too. Apple's Think Different campaign from a few years back is a perfect example of this, as is Microsoft's pairing of Madonna and XP.

Such emphasis on design and marketing may not be surprising from companies that target the general public, but even Sun's mid- and high-end servers are designed with pretty purple details that remind me of running shoes.

Exponential growth in performance means that systems from six months ago are on their way to the junk heap anyway. Their longevity will only decrease as they are more frequently designed and used as fashion pieces. Have last season's iPod or a cell phone that is too large? Better get shopping!

What will the market look like when these devices are physically integrated into clothing?

a means of self-expression

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Dianna Miller, who is finishing up a Masters degree at Ivrea, is looking at how wearables might be used as a means of self-expression, just as clothing expresses the personality and identity of the wearer.

For her thesis, she's developing a "sound accessory" that can be integrated into clothing and controlled by motion or pressure. There's a short interview with her about the project, which is called "Wrapt: sound to suit the wearer". The project site doesn't seem to be available yet.

She's also developed a very cool cape that simulates some of the sensations of flying. I want one! Flightdream.org has demos and a lot of process & implementation details.

- thanks for the link, Haven!

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