August 24, 2006
Connected wearables

Connected Wearables

Ubiquitous computing or Pervasive computing to date seems to have caught most peoples attention predominantly in the form of wearable computing. The concept is not a new one (in relation to the history of new media), can easily be traced back to the 60′s, albeit at this early stage in conceptual and simple prototype form rather than realised interfaces for actual products and bizarrely currently seems to be on a downward curve of popularity in fashion / gadgets.

I have been aware of the work of people such as Steve Mann and the contribution he has made to wearable computer systems for a long time. However as time has gone on designers / artists / scientists have moved on from questioning the integration of digital and electronic media into our lives (even Mann is moving onto work concerned with renewable / sustainable media), accepted the inevitable (at least in this respect) and instead started to focus on how we can shape these devices into flexible tools (open infrastructures, generic hardware etc.) for the future, which can genuinely improve our lives through interaction with the devices and by them helping our social interactions.

The work of designers such as Rachel Murphy (above left) and the selection of interactive and connected jewelery she created as part of the MA in Computer Related Design at the RCA in England about five years ago (the MA unfortunately no longer exists and documentation of all work seems to have disappeared, a shame) and more recently Studio 5050 (above centre and right) in New York particularily their LoveJacket and HugJackets, which somebody pointed me to recently, are good examples of devices trying to do just that. They avoid obvious, yet problem creating, solutions for wearable or portable computing. That is, the integration of interfaces used in non-portable computing in smaller sizes, screens, keyboards, mice trackpads etc. While pda / mobile phone solutions which effectively do this are far from unworkable, they do create as many if not more problems than they solve.

Some of the pros and Cons of integration of a screen, keyboard or stylus / mouse / trackpad in wearable / portable computing (not a definitive list):

  • Pros
    • Familiar methods of working with software, little or no learning curve.
  • Cons
    • Hardware smaller and usually more difficult to use.
    • Does not perform as well as a non-portable computing systems.

The work of Rachel Murphy and Studio 5050 addresses an issue of Ubiquitous computing which has come to the fore. If computing is to be integrated into the environment:

rather than having computers which are distinct objects (wikipedia)

It needs to become connected with other computing devices, the environment and of course it needs to become invisible as a computer in itself. Both Rachel Murphy’s and Studio 5050′s work fits all three criteria and focuses on connecting with the wearer’s themselves. IBM have invested much in this area of research:

Wearable computers are hot, and IBM is combining that with another emerging technology for the next decade: wireless sensors. Big Blue is already working on something they call “emotion sensing.” These are on-body biosensors that monitor your personal area network (PAN) — another IBM Research phrase for using the body as a communications platform.

And so, wirelessly and silently you and your significant other can have an open channel between the two of you. You’ll be able to speak the language of love, or any other language, by monitoring your loved one’s heartbeat, for instance, from across town. Or perhaps if your emotion-sensing ring turns red, you’d best not go home tonight! For information on all this and more go to (

However all this seems to date back to Olin Shivers concept of the Bodynet, a good thirteen years ago at MIT, a must read for anyone interested in these ideas:

The current evolution of personal information appliances, such as cellular telephones, personal digital assistants, and notebook computers, can be made more effective if re-structured into a personal network architecture. This architecture is based upon two central components: a hardware communications system, the BodyNet, and a common interface language, BodyTalk. This architecture will allow personal digital devices to communicate and cooperate in powerful ways, and open a path to portable, wearable network interfaces that are as comfortable and personal as an old and familiar sweater.

Some dated articles on wearable computing:

- Wireless wearable digital jewelry and more
- IBM Gets Fashionable With Wearable Cell Phone

    Posted by: Garrett @ 6:43 pm

    5 Comments / Pings about “Connected wearables”

    1. regine Says:
      August 25th, 2006 at 7:03 am

      the MA in Computer Related Design at rca still exists. it just changed name, it’s Interaction design now

      Comment by regine — August 25, 2006 @ 7:03 am

    2. Network Research » MA in Computer Related Design at the RCA > Design Interactions Says:
      August 25th, 2006 at 1:55 pm

      [...] Regarding the Connected wearables post yesterday: the MA in Computer Related Design at the RCA in England … (the MA unfortunately no longer exists and documentation of all work seems to have disappeared, a shame) [...]

      Pingback by Network Research » MA in Computer Related Design at the RCA > Design Interactions — August 25, 2006 @ 1:55 pm

    3. Network Research » Volume over Lumen Says:
      November 19th, 2006 at 7:10 pm

      [...] Work has similarities with Rachel Murphies Jewelery, Lovejacket and Hugjacket and Bion, Cell Phone Disco, Crash and Bloom except Volume over Lumen is wearable. [...]

      Pingback by Network Research » Volume over Lumen — November 19, 2006 @ 7:10 pm

    4. Network Research » Hug Shirt Says:
      November 24th, 2006 at 9:35 pm

      [...] Note: Similar works include Rachel Murphy’s work, Lovejacket, Hugjacket, Seven Mile Boots, Volume over Lumen and Porta2030. [...]

      Pingback by Network Research » Hug Shirt — November 24, 2006 @ 9:35 pm

    5. Network Research » The Telepresence Garment by Edwardo Kac Says:
      April 5th, 2007 at 11:15 am

      [...] such as Insense, MoPres, Flame 5, MoBeeLine, the Hug Shirt, Volume over Lumen , Porta2030, the LoveJacket and HugJackets, Prototype Schmarotzer (Parasite) and the Seven Mile Boots and I have posted about old work by [...]

      Pingback by Network Research » The Telepresence Garment by Edwardo Kac — April 5, 2007 @ 11:15 am

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