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Can Apple's New Hire Create a Winning Wearable Tech Ensemble?

By Richard Adhikari MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Mar 16, 2010 5:00 AM PT

Apple has hired a senior prototype scientist who's got expertise in wearable computing, according to a Fast Company report.

Can Apple's New Hire Create a Winning Wearable Tech Ensemble?

His name is Richard DeVaul, and he was an organizer for the MIThril wearable computing project while a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

DeVaul describes himself as an "expert in signal processing and real-time statistical classification techniques."

He was awarded a patent in 2007 for a distributed voice and data communications network consisting of a wearable system, a deployable system, physiological sensors and environmental sensors.

Wear Your Tech on Your Sleeve

DeVaul spent his last five years in graduate school working on human-computer interaction techniques for wearable, mobile and portable applications. He was the lead systems architect for MIThril and designed much of the hardware and wrote much of the software for it.

His doctoral thesis focused on the problems associated with wearable memory support technology. It also touched on hardware and software architectures and human-computer interaction for wearable computing that could be conducted in the background. This last includes the use of subliminal visual cues for just-in-time memory support.

His subliminal cuing research project was called the "Memory Glasses" project. You just tell the system what you want to be reminded of and when and it takes care of the rest -- it's like having a wearable version of Microsoft Outlook combined with a TelePrompTer.

A History of Wearable Computers

The definition of what constitutes a practical wearable computer has yet to be nailed down, but the concept of wearable computers itself isn't new.

"It's not like the PC, where there's one knowledge-based goal," Carl Howe, director of anywhere research at the Yankee Group, told MacNewsWorld. "There's lots of different goals you want to achieve, and you have to design different form factors for them all."

Howe, who is an electrical engineer, used to design wearable computer systems for DARPA projects. DARPA launched the Smart Modules Program in 1994 to develop a variety of computers, radios, navigation systems and human-computer interfaces with both military and commercial uses.

Several institutions of higher learning, including the University of Oregon, had wearable computing projects, but many seem to have lapsed. For example, the last entry for the University of Oregon's project was in 2005.

IBM, which had its own wearable computing project in the late 1990s and came up with a Linux-based wristwatch the size of an iPod, also stopped updating its Web page in 2005.

There is a wearable computing FAQ page here and a wearable computing resources page here.

You Might Have One On

In some ways, wearable computers are already here in one form or another.

At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the Yankee Group's Howe saw a Bluetooth device that could be worn as a finger ring. This displayed the caller ID when someone called the user's cellphone. It vibrated to alert the user.

Offered by a Chinese company named Hybratech, the ring could be split up into two earrings that doubled as a Bluetooth headset. "It's a fairly decent headset," Howe remarked.

Other devices that could be considered wearable computers include helmets with heads-up displays worn by aircraft maintenance technicians and sunglasses with earbuds in them that are made for skiers, Howe pointed out.

However, the category may not exactly take off until we find a use for wearable computers and improve their ease of use, Howe said. These devices are powered by batteries that need to be recharged.

"The key is to have the wearable computer do enough for you that you're willing to put up with the inconvenience of wearing it all the time and recharging it," Howe explained.

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