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Open Source Hardware Technology

Is the Rise of Wearable Electronics Finally Here? 98

Posted by Soulskill
from the don't-let-charlie-stross-design-them dept.
ptorrone writes "MAKE Magazine takes a look at the last ten years or so of 'wearable electronics.' From wireless watches to LCD goggles, MAKE predicts we are collectively entering a new era of wearables. As the price for enabling components drops, always-on connectivity in our pockets and purses increases, and access to low-cost manufacturing resources and know-how rises, we'll see innovation continue to push into these most personal forms of computing."
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Is the Rise of Wearable Electronics Finally Here?

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  • by MrEricSir (398214) on Tuesday June 21, 2011 @08:10PM (#36522114) Homepage

    Circuit board: $10
    Computer chips: $80
    Soldering iron: $30
    Looking like a huge dork: Priceless.

    • by c0lo (1497653)

      Circuit board: $10
      Computer chips: $80
      Soldering iron: $30
      Looking like a huge dork: Priceless.

      Soldering iron for wearable [amazon.com] is cheaper.

    • The typical geeky wearable electronics system these days (not counting wristwatches or holders for smartphones) is a Lilypad Arduino, some LEDs and switches, sewable conductive thread, and a battery pack. You might or might not end up soldering - a lot of the parts are connectorized or made for sewing with conductive thread.

      The expensive, hard-to-find part - the creativity it takes to make something interesting that you'd actually wear more than once.

    • by Quirkz (1206400)
      I for one welcome our Neal Stevenson-esque gargoyle overlords.
      • by Coren22 (1625475)

        I always liked the idea of Molly's eye implants in Nueromancer better. Implant a piece of glass over your eyes that contains light amp, IR, sunglasses, maybe millimeter wave radar, and a display. Then have it connect wirelessly to a portable computer. This is a bit of a stretch from what Molly had, but it wasn't much more to add.

    • I dunno, it could be pulled off. I'm watching with great interest the rise and rise of steampunk in fashionable circles, which is the diametric opposite of the slick apple look. Replace brass cogs with copper electronics and you might have something, especially once one of the big fashion houses weigh in. And they will, in their constant search for the new.

  • by cheeks5965 (1682996) on Tuesday June 21, 2011 @08:11PM (#36522122)
    Wearable electronics are a pipe dream and will never happen! ::looks at watch:: oops running late got to go!
    • We already have wearable electronics... have had for a while... Sony WalkMan, Apple iPod, etc... I'm sure the corporations that stand to make billions from these products will throw some money at marketing to try and work out how to make these devices 'cool'.
    • by Asic Eng (193332)

      What they mean with wearable electronics, are electronics embedded in things which you already wear for other purposes. Like belts, glasses or jackets. Neither watches nor smart phones are supposed to be included in that category.

      Nobody has come up with an application which would make that interesting. Having your mp3 player in your belt buckle is inconvenient unless you are using only one belt. Having something built into your sun glasses is inconvenient unless you like with wearing your sunglasses even

      • by anyGould (1295481)

        The company that builds a better pair of glasses will get my business the moment "cash on hand" meets "price".

        I've been wearing glasses my whole life, and it annoys me that it's nigh-impossible to get a pair that does anything more than just "fix my eyes". Give me something that records video and audio. Maybe some binocular capability. I'd say throw video on there, except we haven't solved the "fry your eyeball" problem there.

  • by EdZ (755139)
    But with one hand weighed down by a wrist computer, how will we operate our digital watches?
  • It seems like every 5-10 years or new development points to wearable electronics. First, transistors, then microchips, a decade or so ago, it was small lithium batteries, now? compact wireless. Of course i didn't RTFM, but we've been "wearing" our electronics for years. Carrying cell phones has been the status quo for a decade, walkmans/diskmans for longer. Yes, we carry more electronics every day, but I still wear a timex ironman which has the same functionality as the timex ironman I got in 1994 (indiglo
    • by blair1q (305137)

      >but I still wear a timex ironman which has the same functionality as the timex ironman I got in 1994 (indiglo FTW!).

      I'm wearing a Citizen that has about the same functionality.

      But it recharges itself in sunlight and has all the functions of a digital alarm-chronograph in an analog format.

      I'm sure it's not much more trouble at this point to put into it all the stuff that's in my phone. Well, maybe not this year. 2-3 years from now, though, I may be playing Angry Birds on it.

  • by bhcompy (1877290)
    Gonna get some phat lewtz when I gank you outside of your house
  • http://www.pocketcalculatorshow.com/nerdwatch/fun2.html [pocketcalculatorshow.com] That was the first computer I wore. Didn't help me meet girls back in Grade 12 - I wonder if today's wearable electronics will help better?
    • I'm guessing in grade 12 nothing helped you with girls, based purely on the fact you wore that.
      • by calcwatch (859144)
        Hey, a wrist-top computer alone won't make you a nerd! Just don't let it define who you are and you'll be fine!

        (Learn from my mistakes...)
        • I'm not saying it defines who he was, I'm just guessing he didn't have much of a sense of style. LOL
  • Say what? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by PopeRatzo (965947) * on Tuesday June 21, 2011 @08:55PM (#36522492) Homepage Journal

    From wireless watches to LCD goggles

    Can someone tell me when we ever had wired watches?

    And since I had an LCD wristwatch about 20 years ago, I'm not sure what this business about "wearable technology" is talking about.

    I walk the dog with a radio clipped to my belt listening to the Sox game, and I've been doing that since about 1965 (though with a different dog and mono earphones).

    So what, now we're going to have another round of LCD glasses that suck? Didn't Microsoft have some extremely stupid service with wristwatches that got downloads of information over a decade ago? That went nowhere, too.

    Why are LCD glasses and watches with WiFi considered "wearable technology" but 3G smartphones you can put in a pocket or wear on your belt and media players that clip to your shirt pocket are not wearable technology.

    I'm too weary to look at anything but the RSS feed headline to this article. Is it another link to some horrible Conde Nast ad-story?

    • by ptorrone (638660) *

      "I'm too weary to look at anything but the RSS feed headline to this article. Is it another link to some horrible Conde Nast ad-story?"

      MAKE isn't owned by conde-nast, it's part of oreilly.

      the article talks about the failure of SPOT watches and what's changed since then, and why something like an open source hardware watch will probably do ok within a smaller market.

      don't be so lazy :)

    • by Livius (318358)

      Maybe the 'walk' aspect of the Walkman was too subtle for them?

    • by MacTO (1161105)

      I think their point is that very little wearable technology has found success in the marketplace, outside of watches (which many people treat as a fashion accessory). Everything else has pretty much been an accessory that you carry in your purse or, if you wore it, you looked like a dork.

      That's not likely to change very soon either. I've seen USB flash drives formed into jewellery, but that is the exception because it is small enough to be a subtle fashion accessory without making you look like a dork. I

    • I got this one. I've studied this area as a fan for about six years now. Here we go.

      Take all your nouns and stick them on a NASA gyro and spin them all sideways into the other sentences.

      You said:

      From wireless watches to LCD goggles

      Can someone tell me when we ever had wired watches?

      And since I had an LCD wristwatch about 20 years ago, I'm not sure what this business about "wearable technology" is talking about.

      I walk the dog with a radio clipped to my belt listening to the Sox game, and I've been doing that since about 1965 (though with a different dog and mono earphones).

      So what, now we're going to have another round of LCD glasses that suck? ...Why are LCD glasses and watches with WiFi considered "wearable technology" but 3G smartphones you can put in a pocket or wear on your belt and media players that clip to your shirt pocket are not wearable technology.

      If it's in your pocket, it's not "wearable" because it's just one more thing crammed into your pocket. Unless you have a few tricks enabled, to use it you ... pull it out of your pocket. Then it's not being worn. Clipping it to your belt is an odd hybrid I'll pass on. Belts are like the Switzerland of style - we exp

      • by Eivind (15695)

        The thing is, often there's no point.

        I don't have ears on my wrist, so why would it be practical to have a *watch* store and play my music ? You'd need a cable from the watch to the earbuds, and that sounds horribly impractical and dorky.

        You could make the earbuds wireless, say bluetooth, but then they need their own independent powersupply and electronics anyway, so in that case, why not simply store the music in the earbuds themselves ? Why use watch+earbuds to solve a problem that earburds can solve alon

      • by PopeRatzo (965947) *

        The last one is data gloves.

        OK, now you've got me. I need me some data gloves.

        I've experimented with various types of devices for controlling musical instruments since about 1980 (including "wearable technology") and though I've had some interesting results, nothing has really allowed improved much on the theremin.

        Data gloves... OK. Thanks, TaoPheonix.

    • by AmiMoJo (196126)

      The only practical applications I can think of are energy harvesting (solar, kinetic, thermal) for your other gadgets and built in sensors for monitoring heart rate/BP/pedometer. They would have to be damn cheap but I think that should be possible given time. Some types of security tags are already considered disposable.

  • make magazine should take a look at the increase in cancer and sterility as a result of always on devices (or even sometimes on) and proximity to the point of the cancer. We are entering a new era for sure, and it may not be too pretty either.
    • by mug funky (910186)

      cancer is more due to environment, sterility is because people are waiting too long to pop sprogs these days.

      • waiting too long to pop sprogs these days

        Dear gods, you guys and your slang. That's great. :)

        It was clear from context, but that sounded like something a crooked mechanic would say.

        "Welp, looks like you popped yer sprogs. If you woulda come in when you did that, we coulda had it set for a couple hundred, but drivin' around like that decoupled your gonkulator. We're talking serious work here..."

    • by ptorrone (638660) *

      do you think a DIY publication should "look at the increase in cancer and sterility as a result of always on devices" - even if we had an opinion would anyone want it hear it from us? there's likely more qualified people to be looking at that :)

    • Considering that there's no such increase to be looking at, why should they?

  • by Anonymous Coward
    I'm a software developer and a friend, who is develops hardware solutions, and I teamed up with a small sewing company, which we are also friends with, to discuss wearable electronics. We spent an entire day pouring over documents, examples, internet content, blogs, existing products etc. to come up with marketable ideas such as complete products, hobby components, kits anything and anything else except we just couldn't come up with anything. Maybe we just aren't creative enough but so many of the existing
    • by ptorrone (638660) *

      the open source cufflinks that i mention at the end of the article (and a product i co-designed) have already sold out and i'm guessing will be about $250k of revenue just for those, this isn't counting the earrings and necklaces. while they're meant to be decorative, i think there's a good market for this for companies that get the geek/nerd market who actually love these types of things.

      • I can see it now - homeless guys being paid to walk around with a shirt that shows an advertising RSS feed on the back - and snoops everyone who walks by to collect info so the 'system' can send them coupons via their cellphone.

        Actually about 1/2 of that was predicted by a futurist at the O'Reilly Open Source Conference in Monterey back in 2002 or thereabouts.

    • I'm a software developer and a friend, who is develops hardware solutions, and I teamed up with a small sewing company, which we are also friends with, to discuss wearable electronics. We spent an entire day pouring over documents, examples, internet content, blogs, existing products etc. to come up with marketable ideas such as complete products, hobby components, kits anything and anything else except we just couldn't come up with anything.

      You were trying too hard.

      Want wearable? This [discovery.com] is wearable. An art

  • ...computer/GPS/music library/reality augmenter/camera (stills and video)/video player/game machine/ebook reader/web browser/storage device that allows me to communicate with virtually anyone anywhere at anytime and fits in the palm of my hand? Or is this cooler because you can wear it?
  • This is my contribution to wearable electronics:

    http://www.ondatechnology.org/project-life-bracelet.html [ondatechnology.org]

  • Here is my contribution (working with some Stanford and UCLA computer science faculty) to wearable sensors: http://www.pivotmylife.com/ [pivotmylife.com] Prof Ron Fedkiw is also teaching a seminar next year on this topic, entitled "Cellphones, Sensors, and You". Check out his website for a description http://physbam.stanford.edu/~fedkiw [stanford.edu]
  • by furgle (1825812)
    No its not. But aren't those transition lenses magic.
  • Um... What? All my watches have been wireless - even the "self-winding" one.
    • I remember seeing a watch a few years ago that ran PalmOS and had a USB connector so you could sync your calendars and contacts. That's the only wired watch I've seen. I was almost tempted - it was a nice idea, but it just looked hideous, and much too bulky. I eventually got a Skagen watch, which is so thin and light I can forget I'm wearing it, and does nothing except tell the time. It turns out, that's the feature that I actually want from a watch.
      • by vlm (69642)

        That's the only wired watch I've seen. I was almost tempted - it was a nice idea, but it just looked hideous, and much too bulky.

        What killed it for me was the battery life was measured in hours and could only survive hundreds of charges and it cost hundreds of dollars. So, figure owning one cost about 20 cents/hr no matter if you looked at it or not...

  • Human senses, not merely be another way to surf the web. A HUD style implant in the retina or the ability to see other spectra of light like Jordi's visor would be useful. You know, general bionic man stuff. That's cool

  • we need more solarkini's [geenstijl.nl]!!

  • by AAWood (918613)

    Funnily enough, I've been looking at this recently. I still don't get quite there don't seem to be many low-cost monocular wearable displays out there, even if tethered to a desktop. I personally would love to be able to read on my phone on the way to work without worrying about walking into traffic, or to free up monitor at home for a messenger by placing it up on one eye. Surely the explosion of mobile devices out there mean low-cost small displays are common enough to do this now?

    About the only wearable

    • Yes, I agree I've been looking for cheap monocular HMD's for some time that take RCA input, (all I need is QVGA quality) and have replaceable, rechargeable batteries. I want to plug in my steampunk-ish camera (Olympus E-3 DSLR mounted inside of a wooden shell with bellows made to resemble Speed Graphics press cameras) live view feed into something I can see off the side of my field of vision, but not take over my complete field of view. I'd like something in the 1 - 1.8" size. I just got a PMP (portabl
    • by vlm (69642)

      I personally would love to

      Connect it to my hand held GPS unit so I can look for geocaches in "heads up" mode, enjoying the scenery rather than staring at the box.

      One problem is I'd like the battery life to be equivalent to my GPS, a couple days continuous. Then again, some people geocache with smartphones that have battery lives best measured in minutes, so maybe no big deal?

      • That's why having a standard replaceable battery is important. So many of these devices either have batteries that are soldered in, or are unique to the manufacturer and will be hard to come by when either the manufacturer goes out of business or makes the next generation of new shiny that uses a different battery type. The JXD 696 that I mentioned earlier for instance takes a Nokia 5C battery that is very common (my previous cell phone in fact used it). Unfortunately, it looks like the newer generation
    • by macshit (157376)

      Funnily enough, I've been looking at this recently. I still don't get quite there don't seem to be many low-cost monocular wearable displays out there, even if tethered to a desktop.

      It's not good enough to be low cost, they'd also have to not suck.

      Judging from the "eye displays" I've tried, even the basic tech is still pretty shaky, and trying to make a product that seamlessly integrates with the outside environment is appreciably harder.

      A product that distracts people visually while promoting use "on the move" would also be an interesting public safety problem. Think zoned-out pedestrians listening to their ipod, or drivers yacking on their cellphone, but worse. [Whatever warning

      • by AAWood (918613)

        Agreed on the social aspects, but on the technical ones I don't understand quite why the tech is, as you put it, pretty shaky. For one of these you just need a small screen that looks OK, enough battery to keep it going for a while, a way to get the video to it, and a way to attach it to your head. You can walk into any phone shop and get something that does the first three for a hundred pounds or so, and I don't really see any trouble with the fourth. So why does it cost three times as much to get somethin

        • by macshit (157376)

          I don't know know enough about the technical details to give a good answer, but there are some things that come to mind.

          It seems that compared to a cellphone, an eye-display would require optics (can't just hang a display in front of your eye), which would add weight/bulk/opacity. Moreover, for casual use, it would have to be even lighter than a cell phone (you can't have a heavy weight precariously perched over you eye, and bulky head gear isn't acceptable for a consumer product), and even with the batte

  • Call me a dork but my phone is clipped to my belt. I'm approaching the age when I may need a digital hearing aid. My glasses aren't technically electronic but at the atomic level everything is and they adjust to ambient light. We won't get into pacemakers, insulin pumps... None of these items are exotic.

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