Tech Nous: PC in Fashion

Computer manufacturers have been shrinking the personal computer for years, so now it can fit in your pocket. Not content with this, they are about to make your PC your pocket.

I’m serious. recent fashion show in Japan demonstrated just how advanced “wearable computers” have become – they are now stitched into clothing.

The wearable computer trend has been taking shape for some time. The device includes head-mounted display unit that lets the user view high-resolution image, while the rest of the computer fits into pocket. All up it weighs just 500 grams, barely making bulge in your pocket – though the US$1499 price-tag might make dent in your clothing allowance.

Hitachi developed its wearable PC in collaboration with Xybernaut, US company that has produced range of similar products in the past. The headset gives users the illusion that 13-inch colour screen is in front of their face, and the machine is operated by handheld optical mouse.

Experts expect wearable computers to take off sometime soon, quickly superseding technologies such as mobile phones. Sceptics, on the other hand, think wearable computers will never make it big in the world of high fashion. The 6th International Symposium on Wearable Computers will be held in Seattle, Washington, in October and is designed to bring together researchers, product vendors, fashion designers, textile manufacturers, users, and anyone else interested in knowing more about wearable computing.

There might, of course, be some be excellent opportunities for New Zealand’s natural textile exporters to fleece the market. The Europeans have attacked this emerging technology with predictable flair. France Telecom R&D has produced flexible screen made of woven optical fibres that display static or animated graphics such as logos, text, patterns or scanned images directly on clothes.

The software in France Telecom’s prototype allows users to create and publish their own illustrations, drawings and text. remote control hidden on the garment triggers the display of stored visuals. The device can also handle effects such as scrolling or brightness.

Germany’s Infineon Technologies AG has incorporated computer circuitry into textiles. Chips and sensors are encapsulated in packages and affixed to the fabric, while fine conductive materials woven into the fabric provide the electrical connections. One particular prototype is an MP3 audio player module which is integrated into tiny chip. replaceable multimedia card stores the music titles, and voice-recognition control system replaces the usual key functions.

The clothing is said to be both comfortable and washable. Hardware, software and now wash ‘n wear? But what if it shrinks?

To see one particularly useful application of wearable computer technology, hit, home of the prototype Personal Awareness Assistant (PAA).

The device stores audio in an address book stamped with date, time, and location, using Global Positioning System. The PAA helps people remember the most important content in recent conversations. It buffers the last 60 seconds of audio and, following pre-programmed spoken prompt from the user, saves portion of the audio to memory.

After recognising the words “nice to meet you”, for example, the system saves the preceding 10 seconds and following five seconds of audio – the name of the person you spoke to and any other important bits of conversation are captured. To retrieve the audio segment, simply ask “Who did I meet last week?” The device locates and plays the relevant clip.

Just think, you need never forget “what’s her name” again! M

Glenn Baker is editor of M-tech.
Email: [email protected]

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