(a.k.a. Personal Cybernetics, Personal Technologies,
Eudaemonic Computing, Humanistic Computing,
A wearable computer is a computer, worn and controlled by a user,
that is always on and always accessible. That is,
the user can always enter and execute commands, even
while walking around or doing other activities.
Unlike other wearable devices (wristwatches, regular eyeglasses, wearable
radios, etc.), a WearComp is as reconfigurable
as the familiar desktop or mainframe computer.
Unlike other computers (including laptops and PDAs), a WearComp is
inextricably intertwined with its wearer - WearComp's "always ready"
characteristic leads to a new form of synergy between human
Wearable computing will now be formally defined in terms of its
three basic modes of operation and its six fundamental attributes.
Operational modes of wearable computing
There are three operational modes in this new interaction between human and
Constancy: The computer runs continuously,
and is always ready to interact with the user.
hand-held device, laptop computer, or PDA, it does not need to
be opened up and turned on prior to use. The signal flow
from human to computer, and computer to human,
depicted in Fig 1a, runs continuously to provide a constant
Augmentation: Traditional computing paradigms are
based on the
notion that computing is the primary task. Wearable computing,
however, is based on the notion that computing is NOT the primary
task. The assumption of wearable computing is that the user will be
doing something else at the same time as doing the computing.
Thus the computer should serve to augment the intellect, or
augment the senses.
The signal flow between human
and computer is depicted in
Mediation: Unlike hand held devices, laptop computers,
and PDAs, the wearable computer can encapsulate us (Fig. 1c).
necessarily need to completely enclose us, but the concept allows
for a greater degree of encapsulation than traditional portable
computers. There are two aspects to this encapsulation:
- Solitude: It can function as an information filter,
and allow us to block out material we might not wish to
experience, whether it be offensive advertising, or
simply a desire to replace existing media with different
media. In less severe manifestations, it may simply allow
us to alter
our perception of reality in a very mild sort of way.
- Privacy: Mediation allows us to block or modify information
leaving our encapsulated space. In the same way that
ordinary clothing prevents others from seeing our naked
bodies, the wearable computer may, for example, serve
as an intermediary for interacting with untrusted systems,
such as third party digital anonymous cash "cyberwallets".
In the same way that some martial artists, especially
kendoka, wear a long robe that comes right down
to the ground, in order to hide the placement of their
feet from their oponent, wearable computing can also
be used to clothe our otherwise transparent movements
in cyberspace. Although other technologies, like
desktop computers, can help us protect our privacy
with programs like Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), the
Achilles' heel of these systems is the space between
us and them. It is generally far easier for an
attacker to compromise the link between
us and the computer (perhaps through a so-called
trojan horse or other planted virus) than it is to
compromise the link between our computer and other
computers. Thus wearable computing can be used to
create a new level of personal privacy because it
can be made much more personal; if it is
always worn, except perhaps during showering, it is
less likely to fall prey to covert attacks
upon the hardware itself. Moreover, the
close synergy between the human and computers makes
it harder to attack directly, e.g. as one might
peek over a person's shoulder while they are typing,
or hide a video camera in the ceiling above their
keyboard. Furthermore, the wearable computer can
take the form of undergarments that are encapsulated
in an outer covering or outerwear of fine conductive
fabric to protect from an attacker looking at radio
frequency emissions. The actual communications
between the wearer and other computers (and thus
other people) can be done by way of outer garments,
which contain conformal antennas, or the like, and
convey an encrypted bitstream.
Because of its ability to encapsulate us, e.g. in embodiments of
wearable computing that are actually articles of clothing in direct
contact with our flesh, WearComp may also be able to make measurements
of various physiological quantities. Thus the signal flow
depicted in Fig 1a is also enhanced by the encapsulation
as depicted in Fig 1c.
To make this signal flow more explicit,
Fig 1c has been redrawn: in
Fig 1d, the computer and human
are depicted as two separate entities within an optional
protective shell, which may be removed or partially removed
if a mixture of augmented and mediated interaction is desired.
Wearable computing is a framework for enabling various degrees of each of
these three fundamental modes of operation.
Collectively, the space of possible signal flows giving rise to this
entire space of possibilities, is depicted in Fig 2.
While individual embodiments of wearable computing may use some
mixture of these concepts, the signal path depicted in Fig 2
provides a general framework for comparison and study of these systems.
The signal paths typically each, in fact, include multiple signals, hence
multiple parallel signal paths are depicted in this figure to make
this plurality of signals explicit.
The Six Attributes (Signal Paths) of Wearable Computing
There are six informational flow paths associated with this new
human-machine synergy. These signal flow paths are, in fact, attributes
of wearable computing, and are described, in what follows, from the
human's point of view:
Implied by the above six properties is that it must also be:
- Unmonopolizing of the user's attention:
it does not cut you off from the outside world like a
virtual reality game or the like.
attend to other matters while using the apparatus.
It is built with the assumption that computing will
be a secondary activity, rather than a primary focus
In fact, ideally, it will provide enhanced sensory
capabilities. It may, however, mediate (augment, alter,
or deliberately diminish) the sensory capabilities.
- Unrestrictive to the user: it is
ambulatory, mobile, roving;
"you can do other things while using it".
E.g. you can type while jogging, etc.
- Observable by the user:
it can get your attention continuously if you want it to;
within reasonable limits
(e.g. that you might not see the screen while you blink
or look away momentarily) the output medium is constantly
perceptible by the wearer.
- Controllable by the user:
you can grab control of it at any time you wish.
Even in automated processes you can manually override to
break open and enter the control loop at
any time (e.g. a big HALT button, for use when
an application mindlessly opens all 50 documents that
were highlighted when you accidently pressed
would make a computer more controllable).
- Infinitely-often-controllable: the constancy of
user interface results from almost-always observability
and infinitely-often controllability in the sense that
there is always a potential for manual override which
need not be always exercised.
- Attentive to the environment:
it is environmentally aware, multimodal, multisensory.
(this ultimately increases the user's situational awareness).
- Communicative to others:
it can be used as a communications medium when you want it to.
- Expressive: it allows the wearer to be expressive through
the medium, whether as a direct communications medium to
others, or as means of assisting the production of expressive
media (artistic or otherwise).
Note that a computer mediation device
with sufficient bandwidth can synthesize or even heighten
the augmentational aspects. For example a sufficiently
attentive computer can sustain a sufficient illusion of being
that it could encapsulate the user and still provide the same experience
as system running in the augmentational mode of operation.
Similarly, a sufficiently communicative machine,
especially if "machine" is broadened to include mechanical mediation
devices such as motorized exoskeletons, can synthesize the
- Constant: always on, running, and ready. May have
"sleep modes" but is never "dead" (unlike a laptop computer,
which must be opened up, switched on, and booted up before use).
- Personal: human and computer are inextricably intertwined.
- Prosthetic: you can adapt to it so that it acts as a true
extension of mind and body; after time you forget that you
are wearing it.
resists, if you wish, prohibition or requests by others for
This is in contrast to a laptop, in briefcase or bag,
that could be separated from you by the "please leave all
bags and briefcases at the counter" policy of a department
store, library, or similar establishment.
- Private: others can't observe or control it unless you let them.
Others can't determine system status unless you want them to,
e.g. the clerk at the refund counter in a department store where
photography is prohibited can't tell whether or not
you are transmitting
wireless video to a spouse for remote advice,
in contrast to camcorder technology where it is obvious you
are taking a picture when you hold the camcorder up to your eye.
The most salient aspect of computers
(wearable or not) is their reconfigurability and
their generality, e.g.
that their function can be made to vary widely, depending on the instructions
provided for program execution.
Adapted from Steve Mann's address
Wearable Computing as Means for