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Monday mornings I'm on the air sharing more stories about how people are living better through computers. I'll tuck field notes from those shows right here. You'll also be able to dig into the archives to explore previous shows as I determine how best to share some of the highlights of the past 9 year's worth of adventures.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Wearable Computers: Fashion Fun with Life-Saving Potential

"Embedded technology" has often raised eyebrows as people take microchips to the catwalk in the name of fashion, but this Christmas folks found that Santa had stuffed a few t-shirts into their stockings that were a tiny bit practical and a whole lot of fun, and even tipped a hand toward potentially life-saving fashion trends this year.

If you had an extra $20 kicking around, you could have tucked a "WI-if detector" t-shirt under the tree for your favourite tech geek this year.

Away from home and trying to find a hotspot to plug in and check your email or upload files to the office? If you're wearing this shirt you've got the high-tech divining rod you need to find a place to connect. It sports a set of glowing bars on the front that dynamically change as WI-if signals are detected in the area you're in.

For a bit more cash you can add some entertainment value to your walk-about's, turning your chest into an electronic drum kit that puts air guitar heroes to shame:

or an "equalizer" that lights up and bops the same way the one on your stereo does as it's detecting music and sound around you:

or maybe a "sound effects" shirt that lets you add your own special touch to those moments when the office party or Monday morning meeting needs a bit of spice:

The latter, called the "Personal Soundtrack Shirt" also lets you plug your favourite portable music player into your chest, turning you into your own amplifier.

Some of these new "wearable computers" seems merely quirky and even indulgent. For instance, the Dew Life personal video recorder necklace:

Enables "lifecasting", sort of a living, breathing video blog of your daily life. There's also the University of Tokyo's "Wearable Forest" dress:

Which interacts bio-acoustically with a remote forest, changing the display on the dress as you wear it.

There are a handful of emerging technologies being delivered through the fashion industry, fuelled by renowned research hubs like * MIT research labs and * British Telecom's Adastral Park research centre, that have the potential to not only change but save lives.
We are already heavily dependant on mobile phones for a variety of things in our day-to-day lives. "Embedded technology" in fashion is intended to increase convenience through wearable items that no longer need to be held, with an attention to applications in the fields of medicine and emergency services.

Ubiquitous positioning systems (technology that allows us to know where everything is at all times) can be electro-conductive materials woven into a simple sweater that does something as innocuous as creating a warm sensation when a phone call is coming in from family or friends, or as essential as detecting problems with one's heart, or even the presence of toxic materials through a firefighter's sleeve.

At the moment these wearable human-machine interfaces are fairly benign, residing "on" and not "in" our bodies, though there is indeed intelligent clothing being developed to converse with microchips inside the body to monitor well-being. While this may sound a bit too "Big Brother" for some, it's a trend that hold significant interest in both the fashion and technology industries, and that will likely become as commonplace as our mobile phones are now.

What's on Deck?

This is something I'll continue to keep my eye on and report back on as interesting new applications evolve that have the potential to make our lives better along the way.

Stay tuned for more ways to plug in this winter …

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