The Technology We Wear


By Samuel Greengard

Over the last decade, computing devices have crept into every nook and cranny of our lives. We carry smartphones in our palms, hold tablets while we watch TV and rely on computerized vehicles to get us where we want to go. In fact, it's safe to say that technology has become so entrenched that we're increasingly disoriented when these devices aren't available or don't work.

For better or for worse, all of this is only the start. A new report from Juniper Research, "Smart Wearable Devices: Fitness, Healthcare, Entertainment & Enterprise 2012-2017," predicts that the wearable devices market—including smart glasses and head-mounted displays—will surpass $1.5 billion by 2014, up from approximately $800 million this year.

Many of these devices fall into the category of consumer and health and fitness wearables, including devices that measure how fast and how far we're running or biking. But there is also a growing array of industrial, military and health care systems, Juniper notes. These range from heads-up displays used by firefighters and soldiers to heart monitors that record and transmit data 24x7. Soon, digital eyeglasses will allow engineers or architects to view blueprints while in the field, and a project manager will be able to view to-do lists while on the go.

In fact, eyewear and goggles are perhaps the most intriguing aspect of all this. It's no secret that Google is developing eyeglasses, a.k.a. Project Glass, that can help create an augmented environment by flashing pertinent data (from contact information and video chats to e-mails and maps) on a head-mounted display.

Meanwhile, University of Toronto professor Steve Mann has developed his own augmented reality headset, EyeTap, which he wears when he goes out. Among other things, it displays data while recording video of interactions.

It's safe to say that wearable devices will eventually be woven into our clothes, plugged into our ears and visible to our eyes most of the day. They will become omnipresent extensions to our daily lives, serving up map overlays, facial recognition, coupons and incentives, reminders and more.

At a certain point, human and computer are likely to blur. Remarkable? Yes. But it's also a bit creepy to think that such a system would require unprecedented access to private information and intimate details of one's life—from body temperature to prescription information. It also makes you wonder what will happen when systems fail in a major way and highly dependent users are suddenly left without the equivalent of electricity and plumbing.

A science fiction future is nearly here.