by Tom Wailgum

Computer Gear that You Wear

Jan 01, 20032 mins
Data Center

Chances are, you’ve already seen someone with wearable computing gear and just not realized that beneath that geeky-looking guy’s coat was the same technology you have on your desktop.

Wearable computing isn’t just the stuff of science fiction. It’s already here and in use today?from an aircraft technician’s full-color head-mounted display that shows him exactly which engine part needs to be replaced to a teenager’s ultra-hip jacket that hides a PC, wireless Internet connection and MP3 player. “It’s not future technology,” says Mike Binko, a spokesman for Fairfax, Va.-based Xybernaut, one of the front-runners in the wearable computing arena and maker of wearable computers used by FedEx and Bell Canada. “People think that it doesn’t work with the Internet or wireless or extranet or dial-up. No matter what connectivity you have, it’ll work.”

For years, the early adopters of wearable computing have been the military, aerospace and the government. More recently, it’s also finding its way into the transportation, telecommunications and utilities industries. Providing hands-free computing to soldiers, utility workers and deliverymen as well as giving them the ability to access and update information on their organization’s network in real-time have been the major forces behind wider adoption of wearable computers. In 2003 and beyond, as companies look to streamline technical work and integrate all realms of disparate company data, wearable computing will emerge as an attractive option.

On the consumer side, you won’t be seeing a $5,000, high-end wearable PC at your local Wal-Mart anytime soon, although wearable computing will continue to inch toward the mainstream stitch by stitch. Many university research groups, including MIT’s Media Lab, are exploring the next generation of wearables. MIT’s recent MIThril project is an all-in-one hardware platform (woven into a vest with an accompanying head-mounted display) built with off-the-shelf components and custom- engineered parts.

The wearable trend is growing. Venture Development predicts that worldwide shipments of wearable computers will reach $158 million in 2003, and more than a half a billion dollars by 2006. The fastest-growing usage categories for wearable technology, according to the Natick, Mass.-based market researcher, will be bio-monitoring, Internet access and PDA-centric functionality. So it appears that wearables are here to stay. Now we just have to try not to look like a geek while wearing them.