How I imagine the future of Wearable Tech / by Kelly Hofer

I have been a long time advocate of wearable tech, I have always enjoyed a close relationship with technology. I spend most of my time every day interacting with some sort of electronic device. Weather it be my computers, cameras or cell phone. I am pretty much dependent on them as my knowledge assistant and tools of creation.

Just recently I got introduced to the Calgary based team of technologists and designers at Make Fashion
Last year was Make Fashion's inaugural year, with a fashion show at Endeavour Arts that featured clothing embedded with electronics. The clothing responded to movement, proximity, light and sound, by emitting light. And while it's incredibly beautiful to look at, though the practical usefulness is limited. I am on the Make Fashion team this year as well, I have teamed up with Catherine Hazin in creating a dress that has a biomimetic design, and it too responds to movement and also the pulse of the dancer that'll wear it, using lights. My ideas for future dresses are much more elaborate and hopefully practically useful. 

The aim of the Make Fashion show is to approach the idea of wearable electronics with a flair of high style, with the end aim of marrying the high style with high functionality. The tech industry, in large part, is lacking the former making wearable tech still feel alien on the wearers body. We aim to change that. 

I have been closely examining the progress that companies are making in the field of putting electronics on the body, Google Glass is in my opinion the best example, along with Pebble [steel] , Samsung [Gear] and a host of other [largely single function] devices.  

The purposes of wearable tech include functions like monitoring behaviour/health, behaviour modification, social media monitoring, knowledge retrieval/vital information display, entertainment, accessibility, home automation [responding to current condition of self with temperature, lighting..ect. of home], real time learning/assistance and many others.

Combining all these functions into one device would be a dream, but is for all intents and purposes, unattainable. The current state of technology largely being the limiting factor. Batteries are incredibly inefficient, interface design is paltry and natural learning processes need development. 

I feel wearable tech will help extend a lot of human senses. Give me a moment to explain that:
Going back thousands of years, before the invention of writing, all the knowledge we had had to be stored in the mind. It was passed on orally, and if someone forgot about it, then it remained forgotten. When writing was developed, thoughts could be lifted from the mind and remembered on paper. Essentially eliminating the need for remembering stories, anecdotes and knowledge. The printing press further accelerated that. 


Very similarly, the invention of the camera, movie camera and television extended the sense of sight in that you didn't have to be present to witness an event. 
Audio recording extended the sense of hearing. Robotics, and a host of other technologies, are simulating muscles, so that you can use your hand to control much larger motorized machines. 
Taste and smell are senses that are possible to extend, but seem awkward to do so.

The next technology that is going to a game changer, is mind control. The use of electrodes, grey matter scanners or whatever technology used to analyze thoughts, using them to bypass all the above senses. For ultimately, all of the sense are hardwired to the mind, so one could theoretically bypass them and access them through the mind by means of tapping into a nerve.

Now going back to wearable tech, the first wave of wearable technology is to take the stimulation and simulation of senses off the desk, shelf... and place it onto the wearers body in a unobtrusive form as possible. 
Google glasses essentially gives someone a TV, communication device, camera, and a bunch of software enabled functions, into a region above the eye. The interface is limited. It has a navigation slider along the side, voice recognition and eye blink detection along with the cell phone it's connected to, as interface devices. But it's presumably going to get a hell of a lot better. 

I recently got to play with the Leap Motion Controller , a device that translates movements of the hand gestures, without touch, into computer interface directions. It is incredibly small, accurate and has no perceptible latency. 

There is the Galaxy Gear watch, essentially a touchscreen interface, shrunken down to the size of a wristwatch, with a camera attached. It's a good concept, but the interface is incredibly useless. Imagine a 1.5 inch touchscreen. The only practical motion is to swipe, and click, which has 5 possible outcomes. [up, down, left, right, touch] 

Now if the two previously mentioned devices got married, they'd produce a watch that you don't have to touch and has a possible interface surface area of 2-3 sq feet in 3d space, and is only limited by the many ways you can form your hand. That would be a beautiful device I'd buy in a heartbeat. 

The ultimate device does all of the above functions and will be completely invisible. 

This is my vision for the final version of technology on a personal level.

Lets start with the brain, it's a computer that uses electronic pulses via the nerves to communicate with all the sensory organs. With enough knowhow, one could theoretically 'hack' into the nerves and send signals that simulate a sense like vision, or touch, without the wearer touching anything. For example, you could simply think about talking, and the device would take that signal from the brain and transcribe it into text which can be easily understood by machines. Sending a message to a friend could theoretically be as simple as thinking of saying "send a text to Kelly Hofer: Lets meet up for coffee tonight", an incoming text could be conveyed in one of two ways, by sending the necessary information into the optic nerve and showing the text message in your field of view, or by sending it though the audio nerve and reading it out loud using a synthesized voice.

It's a odd thing to consider, but come along and consider this with me. Imagine a robot in a workplace, say, a construction site. It's perfectly hooked up to your body, in very much the same way as in the movie Avatar. Every move is mimicked by the avatar/robot and the user simply has to think about it. And all the sense are pumped directly back to the human in real time. You could simply sit at home, and think yourself through a day. Experiencing all the pleasures, subtleties, and senses in full, except that the body is in lying in total stillness and none of the physical senses are being used, but instead are being overridden with a direct link to the brain. 

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I feel that is going a bit far. But it seems like a possible reality with the rate at which technology is growing exponentially smaller, faster and more powerful. 

But for now, I'm happy to have a two year old phone in my pocket. It does the job, even though I have to physically pull it out, unlock it, press the app, insert information to get information back. It's a process that could be sped up. 

 

Upcoming Make Fashion Event. TechBurlesque. Jan 17. Get tickets [Here] 

A sexy, illuminating fundraiser for the 'Make Fashion' show on March 1.