Wearable computers continue to make the headlines, and why wouldn't they? The idea of small portable computing devices left the realm of science fiction some time ago. With the advent of Google Glass we moved from the era of Star Trek: Original Series into something way more futuristic – if you could call something that’s happening now futuristic. The only question is: what comes next? Some of the devices we mentioned in our last wearable computing roundup are now out in the market but that market isn't standing still.
For example, Kazuhiro Taniguchi of Hiroshima City University has recently created a prototype of an ear mounted computer that detects mouth movements via infrared and allows those movements to command the device. Called the Ear Switch (or Earclip-type Wearable PC), the device includes a barometer, a battery, a compass, a speaker and microphone and GPS. That means that, as a Mashable article pointed out, it would work well for finding your way around but would not be able to display visual content. The developer is hoping to make a commercial version of the Ear Switch within the next two years. An earlier version of this device was used to control an iPod with facial expressions.
One advantage of that kind of computer is that it can benefit people can't use their hands. And there is also speculation that Apple may be going down the route of assistive technology with one of its wearables. Guardian Liberty Voice suggests that the company might be planning to introduce smart hearing aids which can be used with an iPhone. The ReSound Linx combines a hearing aid and a headset and uses Bluetooth to operate wirelessly. It promises that hearing-impaired users will hear clear speech and even be able to make video calls. The product is made by a Danish company with whom Apple has reportedly partnered so watch this space! The article speculates that a hearing aid that looks more like a headset will prove popular among the more than 500 million hearing-impaired people worldwide.
Many people believe that computer technology can be embedded into almost anything, and could help ensure people’s safety. For example, parents can enjoy smart clothes that monitor babies' breathing, sleep habits and temperature. That technology already exists: the Mimo Baby onesie sends updates in real time via an iOS or Android app. And then there's the more adult oriented Fundawear, which you can read about in this Entrepreneur article.
Google Glass was only the beginning, say the experts. A panel at SXSW agreed that wearables will have arrived when no one can tell that you're wearing a computer. There still remain challenges in terms of battery life (improvements in this area will also benefit smart phones) but major tech manufacturers are working on this, seeing how other technologies like solar power could mean that users can wear devices for longer.
One thing’s for sure: wearable computers aren't going anywhere. While companies like Vusix are trying to compete on price with Google Glass, Google has released tools to help developers create applications for wearable computers.
And, perhaps in a bid to prove that wearables really can go anywhere, scientists from the University of Hawaii and the University of Tokyo have used to them to track what sharks are doing underwater. That could give any future remake of Jaws a whole new dimension!