25C3: State Of The Art Wearable Computing


[Kai Kunze] from the Embedded Systems Lab at Passau came to 25C3 to talk about Cyborgs and Gargoyles: State of the Art in Wearable Computing. There have been a lot of homebrew wearable computing solutions, but [Kai] covered specifically projects that could see everyday use in the real world.

The first was a prototype system they built for use in hospitals. The doctor wore a belt buckle sized linux computer under his coat which was attached to an RFID reader on his wrist. He would read the patients RFID wrist band, which would display their chart on the screen. He could then scroll and select using a capacitive sensor built into the coat. Notes could be taken using a bluetooth headset. The system kept the doctor’s hands free for examining the patient while still providing as much information as possible. They actually ran this system for 30 days in a hospital.

The next example was a joint project with the car manufacturer Skoda. Quality assurance (QA) testing can be a long process with many more steps than assembly operations. The team attached sensors to the worker to determine where the worker was in relation to the car and to get direct measurement of the object being tested. The use of wearable technology meant they got more data than they normally would with standard QA testing and they could quickly prompt the worker if they missed a step.

[Kai] identified a couple projects that would make developing your own system much quicker. Context Recognition Network Toolbox helps you identify what actions are being performed. They’ve used it to build systems like an automated kung-fu trainer that can recognize poses. There’s also a context logger app for the iPhone that can be trained using accelerometer data to recognize different activities. He also suggested a program developed with Zeiss for visually prompting workers as they performed tasks. In testing, it was 50% faster than text instructions and 30% faster than voice.

One of the more bizarre/interesting ideas we saw was a phone locator based on resonance (PDF). Designed for a Symbian device, it would play a sound and then record the result that had been modified by the surroundings. Each surface had its own signature so you could query the phone and it would report where it was i.e. on the desk, on the sofa, in the drawer. This resonance sampling can also be employed using the vibration motor.

The final point [Kai] touched on was privacy. If you’re wearing a sensor, you’re potentially giving away personal data. He showed an example of how systems could be designed to keep this information to users. The first part was a camera recording the movement of people in a room. It could identify where the faces were, but not who they were. One of the participants had an accelerometer recording their movements. That user could use the camera’s data to figure out his own movement in the space by correlating the data, but no one else would see the full picture.

7 thoughts on “25C3: State Of The Art Wearable Computing

  1. Too bad that Steve Mann and Thad Starner have been doing this stuff for decades now.

    Those two are the inventors and the current state of the art for wearable computing. everyone else is riding their coat-tails.

    I had a Linux PC on my belt (386 pc104 formfactor) in the late 90’s and had a single eye HUD and chording keyboard. I had a wireless internet connection via packet radio over rs232 on campus. worked very well.

  2. thanks for the great post. i am a regular reader of your blog.

    to fartfaces comments: yes, we build on work from steve mann and thad and are actually in close collaboration with thad’s group at georgia tech.

    important here is that we build on their results/research and they are using ours, this is how science works.

    i don’t think that you had a working wearable system that supported real doctors and nurses doing ward rounds in the late 90’s :)

    in general, it is great fun to run around with a linux pc and a eye hud. yet, if you just have just regular desktop applications (and none specifically designed for wearables) it limits the use of the system heavily.

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