Wearable Computing

Steve Mann, 1995 (WearComp5)

My interest in body-worn computing coupled with wireless communications began in the late 1970s to early 1980s, when I was trying to control and sequence body-worn light sources such as electronic flash, for the purposes of creating visual art in conjunction with a camera system.

In the late seventies I collected a number of broken two-way radios ("walkie talkies") and managed to get some working as transmit-only units and others working as receive-only. Sometimes people would give me a busted two-way radio and it would turn out that only the transmitter or only the receiver was broken, so this is what got me started on the idea of using a full duplex link.

I did this mostly as a personal hobby, and it was not until around the mid eighties that others showed interest in my work (I had my first solo exhibition of my work in a Toronto gallery in 1985, and a picture of me with my "wearable" apparatus and the award (the Fuji film plaque) appeared in Campus Canada).

I'm still using an old CRT-based display (moved over to Virtual Vision glasses) because I've yet to find a commercial product that provides sufficient spatial resolution and tonal range compared to the CRT-based system.

My current rig consists of a Pentium 90 with 64M RAM, 1.2G HD. The guts of this are from an HP laptop. The HP laptop is especially suited to this application because of its rugged (e.g. use of high-quality parts) construction. I also have constant Internet connectivity operating at various frequencies, and a 2.4kJ flash lamp with a provision for a 40kJ lamp head, and provision for a variety of different sensor arrays. I plan to stay with this system until I can get a "wearable" that properly handles video flash sync.

My work has been self-funded (donations of broken camcorders, broken two-way radios, and the like greatly appreciated), although recently, with the advent of the World Wide Web, much publicity has surrounded the work, and I'm greatful to the many companies who've donated items to my endeavour. In particular, I'd like to thank Virtual Vision, Kopin, Compaq, Hewlett Packard Laboratories, BelTronics, and M-A/COM for assistance.

With the recent introduction of commercial wearable computers, and display systems such as the ``Private Eye'', it is now possible to put together a working system from off-the-shelf components.

If you are interested in building a wearable computer, visit the HardWear wearhow page

If you are interested in wearable electronic flash, wearable lighting, "lightpainting", etc., please email me; see current correspondence address in http://wearcam.org/mann.html (there's not enough interest in these areas to maintain a comprehensive Web page on products, etc.).

Special thanks to my advisor, Rosalind Picard, and Thad Starner, both who have made useful suggestions/contributions in recent years of this project, as well as the many others who offer much encouragement. Hopefully "wearables" will expand into a fun research topic.

An historical account of the WearCam and WearComp projects (This paper may also be viewed as one single html file, or a PostScript version may be downloaded).