Ever since the development of the ENIGMA (the first digital computer), computers have inspired our imagination. In this period came the World War II code breaking machine designed by Alan Turing, and Von Neuman’s ENIAC which can be called dinosaurs compared to present day PCs. In the earlier days, computers were so huge that it took an entire building, or at least a floor to occupy one. Computers of that era were very slow by today’s standards. In the non-ending struggle to increase computing speed, it was found out that speed of electricity might become a limiting factor in the speed of computation, and so it was a need to lessen the distance that electricity had to travel in order to increase the computing speed. This idea still holds true in modern computing.
By the 1970s, computers grew fast enough to process an average user’s applications. But, they continued to occupy considerable amount of space as they were made of solid blocks of iron. The input was done by means of punch cards, and later came the keyboard, which revolutionalized the market. In 1971 came the 4004, a computer that was finally small in size. The programmability of these systems were quite less. Still, computers had to be plugged directly in to AC outlets, and input and output done by punch cards. These computers were not built keeping users in mind. In fact, the user had to adjust himself with the computer.
This was the time when wearable computer (wearcomp) was born. In the 1970s, wearcomp challenged the other PCs with its capability to run on batteries. Wearcomps were a new vision of how computing should be done. Wearable computing showed that man and machine were no more separate concepts, but rather a symbiosis. The wearcomps could become a true extension of one’s mind and body.
In the beginning of 1980s, personal computing emerged. IBM’s PC and other cheaper clones spread world-wide like fire. Finally the idea of a small PC on your desktop that costed you quite less became a reality. In the late 1980s PC’s introduced the concept of WIMP (Windows, Icons, Mice & Pointers) to the world which revolutionalised the interface techniques. At the same time, wearables went through a transformation of their own. They were now eyeglass based, with external eyeglass mounts. Though they remained visible to all, wearcomps were developing principles of miniaturization, extension of man’s mind and body, secrecy and personal empowerment. Now, the only thing needed was an environment for them to flourish. People began to realize that wearcomps could be a powerful weapon in the hands of an individual against the machinery.
The 1990s witnessed the launch of laptops. The concept was a huge success as people could carry their PC wherever they go, and use them any time they need. A problem remained still. They still had to find a workspace to use their laptops since keyboards and mice (or touch-pads) remained.
During all these years of fast transformation, there remained visionaries who struggled to design computers that were extension of one’s personality, computers that would work with your body, computers that will be with you at all times, always at your disposal. In the last two decades, wearcomps grew smaller still. Now you have completely covert systems which would reside inside your average glasses.
One of the prevalent ideas in wearable computing is the concept of mediated reality. Mediated reality refers to encapsulation of the user’s senses by incorporating the computer with the user’s perceptive mechanisms, which are used to process the outside stimuli. For example, one can mediate their vision by applying a computer-controlled camera to enhance it. The primary activity of mediated reality is direct interaction with the computer, which means that computer is “in charge” of processing and presenting the reality to the user. A subset of mediated reality is augmented reality. It differs from the former because interaction with the computer is secondary. The computer must be able to operate in the background, providing enough resources to enhance but not replace the user’s primary experience of reality. Wearable computers have many applications centered around this concept of mediated / augmented reality as well as many other exciting applications centered around the idea of immediate access to information.