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Wearable computing and the Internet of Things

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article image The new Google Glass is a contemporary example of wearable computing

Wearable computing offers the potential for advancement in human-computer interaction compared to traditional personal computing.

Referring to the use of personal computers, displays and sensors worn on one’s person, wearable computing facilitates constant access and interaction with a computer, and the Internet, while going about one’s daily activities without interruption.

Wearable computing devices potentially offer much greater consistency in human-computer interaction by ensuring constant access to the computer, and constant connectivity without a computing device being used intermittently in the midst of other activities.

The new Google Glass is a contemporary example of wearable computing. Representing an advanced, sleek, beautifully designed head-mounted wearable computer with a display suitable for augmented-reality applications, the Google Glass created frenzy amongst technology enthusiasts, which demonstrated the potential level of market demand for wearable computers.

However, the high price tag of US$1500 price tag for Google Glass may lead many to consider what potential might exist for the deployment of wearable computing and wearable sensor-network technologies.

One example is the category known as ‘Smart Watches’ such as the Sony SmartWatch and Pebble Technology’s Pebble e-Paper watch, both of which offer constant, on-the-go access to information from the Internet at a glance of the wrist. A device that defines Internet of Things, a smart watch allows text messages and email notifications to be pushed through, with display of information from a multitude of other Internet-connected data streams also possible.

Smart phones can also help reduce the cost of wearable computing. Given the growing popularity and increasing hardware capabilities of smart phones, these mobile devices carried on one’s person can act as a gateway between the Internet (via cellular networks) and other smaller, lower-power wearable computer or sensor devices worn on the body and connected back to the smartphone via standard data links such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. In using the smart phone as an Internet connection, the size, price and weight of the wearable device can be significantly reduced.

Apart from enabling mobile Internet connectivity, the smart phone can also provide a large display and an amount of storage capacity, which can be harnessed for the logging, visualisation and display of data collected from a network-connected sensor node wearable on one’s body, or a whole network of such sensor nodes distributed around different personal electronic devices carried on the person and different types of physical sensors around the body.

The increasing penetration of smart phones in the market and the increasing availability and decreasing cost of wireless radio-networked microcontroller system-on-chips, MEMS, sensors and energy efficient short-range wireless connectivity technologies such as Bluetooth 4.0 are among some of the factors responsible for increasing the capabilities of, and decreasing the cost of, wearable computing and wearable Internet-of-Things and sensor platforms.

Speed and position loggers, GPS data loggers and smart pedometers intended for logging and monitoring athletic performance, such as the Internet-connected, GPS-enabled Nike+ system, along with biomedical instrumentation and sensor devices such as Polar’s Bluetooth-connected heart rate sensors are other prominent examples of wearable Internet-of-Things devices, which are attracting increasing consumer interest on the market today.

Combined with display devices such as smart watches, smart phones and head-mounted displays such as Google Glass, these wearable sensors create a complete wearable machine-to-machine Internet-of-Things network that can be self-contained on one’s person. 

The next level of possibilities in wearable computing will pertain to what customers would want a device to do, how it can be accomplished, and the availability of resources and expertise to design, test and bring such a system to the market.

This will involve a lot of technology, but it can be achieved provided it is done with the right technology partner. 

Product manufacturers can partner with LX Group and benefit from their experience with connected devices, embedded and wireless hardware/software design, and ability to transfer ideas from the whiteboard to the white box. 

Clients seeking a reliable implementation can partner with LX Group, which is equipped to create or tailor just about anything from a wireless temperature sensor to a complete Internet-enabled system within the required timeframe and budget. 

An award-winning electronics design company based in Sydney, Australia, LX Group specialises in embedded systems design and wireless technologies.

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