Wearable technology refers to devices that can be worn by users, taking the form of an accessory such as jewelry, sunglasses, a backpack, or even actual items of clothing such as shoes or a jacket. The benefit of wearable technology is that it can conveniently integrate tools, devices, power needs, and connectivity within a user’s everyday life and movements.
One of the most popular incarnations of the technology was the calculator watch, which was introduced in the 1980s. Since then, the field has advanced significantly, but the overarching theme behind the technology remains the same – convenience. These tools are portable, light weight, and often take the place of an accessory the user already wears, such as a t-shirt, glasses, or wrist-watch, making them easy to take anywhere.
Google’s “Project Glass” features one of the most talked about current examples – the device resembles a pair of glasses, but with a single lens. A user can see information about their surroundings displayed in front of them, such as the names of friends who are in close proximity, or nearby places to access data that would be relevant to a research project.
Wearable technology is still very new, but one can easily imagine accessories such as gloves that enhance the user’s ability to feel or control something they are not directly touching. Wearable technology already in the market includes clothing that charges batteries via decorative solar cells, allows interactions with a user’s devices via sewn-in controls or touch pads, or collects data on a person’s exercise regimen from sensors embedded in the heels of their shoes.
Currently, the number of new wearable devices in the consumer sector seems to be increasing daily, greatly outpacing the implementation of this technology at universities. The education sector is just beginning to experiment with, develop, and implement wearable technologies, though the potential applications are significant and vast (via kendall at dh fashion). Smart jewelry or other accessories could alert students working in chemical laboratories to hazardous conditions, while wearable cameras can instantly capture hundreds of photographs or data about a user’s surroundings on an offsite geology dig that can be later accessed via email or other online application.
One of the most compelling potential outcomes of wearable technology in higher education is productivity. Wearable technologies that could automatically send information via text, email, and social networks on behalf of the user, based on voice commands, gestures, or other indicators, would help students and educators communicate with each other, keep track of updates, and better organize notifications.
Thinkgeek’s InPulse Smart Notification watch is relatively affordable at $150 and works with Android devices to enable users to view and organize emails, texts, phone calls, and other notifications.
A new brain-sensing headband called Muse displays a user’s brain activity directly on their smartphone or tablet. The ultimate goal for development is that users will be able to control televisions and other electronic devices merely by thinking about them.
Some current research and development efforts at the university level are related to sensory improvement, such as gloves that enhance responsive feeling when performing surgery or interacting with scientific equipment. The MIT Media Lab is taking this notion a step further by allowing users to turn any surface into an interface with SixthSense, a tool consisting of a pocket projector, a mirror, and a camera. The hardware components inside this pendant-like wearable device project information onto any surface, while the camera recognizes and tracks a user’s hand gestures.
Another significant area of interest for education is wearable flexible displays. Samsung, LG, Sony, and a number of other technology companies have already created light-emitting diode (LED) displays that can
wrap around furniture and other curved surfaces, and Erogear has developed a display that can be integrated into different types of clothing. Advancements in this area could eventually make smartphones, tablets, and other computing devices obsolete.
Professor Thad Starner at Georgia Tech University founded the Contextual Computing Group to develop applications and interfaces that can be worn. Projects include a mobile sign language translator, a wearable pendant that recognizes and translates one’s hand gestures into actions, and an application designed to make a tablet pressure-sensitive so it monitors tremor in patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Although wearable technology is not yet pervasive in higher education, it will increase in impact as enabling technologies gain traction in the consumer market.