Fashionably Functional: Wearable Computing Devices

Fashionably Functional: Wearable Computing Devices

Mark Grambau
Apr 17, 2012

Thanks to the miniaturization of electronic components, innovations that once belonged to fantasy now surround us every day. I'm not talking about flying cars or teleporters (not yet, anyway!), but wearable computers. If you were impressed by the thirty phone numbers your Casio watch held back in the 90s, you'll be blown away by what's possible today, not to mention in the near future!

Available today - Fitness and body tracking
The last year has seen a boom in the release of personal fitness sensors. Each one of these wearable computers measures your body's movement to give you a better sense of your physical fitness and wellbeing. The Jawbone Up and Nike+FuelBand are stylish bracelets, while the Fitbit Ultra is a discreet clip. All three communicate with dedicated software on your computer or smartphone to track activity, record progress, and help achieve goals. They even keep you motivated through healthy competition with friends and other users. These devices are all inexpensive, stylish, and available now, and I fully expect similar products to appear in the coming years, each with greater sensitivity and more advanced capabilities than the last!

Coming soon from a Kickstarter near you
In its young life, Kickstarter has already brought the world countless ingenious inventions. Two recently-funded projects will soon deliver advances in wearable electronics. The first is a pair of motorized rollerskates called spnKiX, created by designer Peter Treadway (let's quickly marvel at the fact that motorized skates were invented by a guy named Treadway). These battery-powered boots strap on to your shoes and are controlled wirelessly via handheld remote. While they'll propel you forward for up to six or seven miles at 10 mph, they'll set you back $649. spnKiX are set to ship this May!

The second product blasted past its initial fundraising goal of $100,000 within hours of announcement, and has raised more than $3 million as of the writing of this post. Pebble is a watch with a backlit ePaper screen, a variety of sensors, and an onboard computer that communicates wirelessly with your iPhone or Android phone. The watch can display call info, alerts, music controls, a plethora of virtual timepieces, and much more. Supporting this campaign is a sound investment, as the company is well versed in this category (they already make the BlackBerry & Android compatible inPulse Smartwatch) and the Kickstarter price of $115 is well under the future $150 retail price. Pebble is estimated to ship in September.

The future is in sight!
The biggest story of late about the future of wearable computing comes from Google, who recently revealed what they call Project Glass. Their specialized glasses combine the latest in lens and display technology with the constant data stream you already experience via your smartphone. The lenses display real time visuals for your environment, including directions, reminders, the ability to take photos, and more. Watching their concept video is the best way to truly understand the company's vision (pardon the pun).

Though Google says the interactive imagery is intended to weave in and out of your life as needed, I can't help but feel that getting this right requires a kind of pitch-perfect visual and experiential execution that Google has yet to demonstrate. Time will tell, as Project Glass remains in testing and is not yet for sale. I think the technology has a great deal of promise, but I'm not sure the Google of today has the subtlety and grace to pull it off. Jonathan McIntosh's humorous take on how Glass would actually play out, shown below, seems eerily accurate.

(Images: 1. Google, 2. Jawbone, 3. Nike, 4. Fitbit, 5. spnKiX, 6 & 7. Pebble Technology, via Kickstarter, 8. Google)

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