From clothes riddled with sensors to name tags that detect our moods, computing’s next wave could unleash small devices that increasingly augment everyday activities with digital intelligence. That was the vision at a conference on “wearable computing” this week in Boston.
Some attendees took wearable computing to the extreme, donning cyborg-like miniaturized displays attached to eyepieces. But most on exhibit seemed much closer to being a mainstream commercial product. For example, researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (known as ETH Zurich) showed off stretchable, thread-like sensors that can be woven into shirts to detect their wearers’ posture. People with back pain or injuries could be prompted on a PC or a mobile device to straighten up, pronto. Stephane Beauregard of Germany’s University of Bremen displayed a shoe-borne sensor whose tiny accelerometers perform electronic dead reckoning—providing real-time location tracking in places satellite navigation systems either cannot reach or cannot describe with precision. For now, the sensor has to be held in place by the shoelaces, but Beauregard expects a version that can fit inside a boot heel could be a year away. His first intended market is firefighters and other emergency responders. AP