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International Symposium on Wearable Computers '98


This was a two day conference hosted by CMU in Pittsburgh starting on 17th October. Click here for web-site. There were about three hundred attendees (four hundred last year), seventeen presented papers, nine posters and a 'gadget show'. There was a reasonable overlap of attendees from the previous year's conference and even from the HCI for mobile devices conference.

This turned out to be a lively and sociable conference. I especially enjoyed talking to other delegates. In contrast, the papers were of general interest, but mostly did not build on last year's conference. I could understand some people staying away on the basis that the themes adressed in the papers had not moved on sufficiently from last year. So wearables still looks more like a broad-interest group rather than an organised force.

There was a lot of attention given to sub-notebook products by delegates. In particular increasing numbers of delegates appear to be using sub-notebooks as prototyping platforms. This suggests that notebooks maybe provide the route by which wearable computers enter the mainstream. In contrast there were few people developing on the WinCE platform.

Favourite papers

Context-Aware, Adaptive Wearable Computers as Remote Interfaces to 'Intelligent' Environments. Korteum et al Oregon. Good architectural and scalable approach to wearable computing platforms. We have a lot in common with these guys. Like us they are trying to build wearable computer systems that can work with whatever devices are available locally without the need for prioir knowledge.

Visual Context Awareness in Wearable Computing. Starner et al MIT. Makes the point that it is possible to extract simple features from a video input stream. In their case they identified locations from floor features of a particular building. Also identified user gestures associated with particular activities. They used a 'nose-cam' (downward pointing camera mounted on a baseball cap).

Augmentable reality: situated communication through physical and digital spaces Rekimoto et al Sony Research. Using visual tags to identify rooms and objects and associate notes with them. A nice general purpose example of a context-aware computing platform that gets a lot of mileage from a simple tagging scheme. Allows users to add new information to tagged objects on the fly. They are interested in their system as a communication tool. Eg labelling broken VCRs in conference rooms!


Jonny Farringdon. Phillip's research Redhill, UK. A lot of the Phillip's work is commercially sensitive, so they were unable to present a paper at this year's conference. They have been working with Libretto and Xybernaut prototypes on media capture themes. I am still particularly interested in Phillips since they are well positioned to launch wearable products having good design and usability skills, broad high technology skills and a presence in consumer electronics. My guess is that they are thinking about a media-capture wearable including a camera.

Jason Pascoe. University of Kent, UK. Final year PhD student supervised by Peter Brown. Jason is thinking about context infomation services - a good area.

Barry Crabtree and Jerry Bowskill. BT Research Labs Martlesham, UK. Barry has a background in 'agents' and is working with Brad Rhodes on the rememberance agent. He is also looking at journey planning. Jerry is looking at wearables for video conferencing. Yet more people at BT working on wearable-related themes. These guys seemed keen to improve BT-HP links. BT are very active in the wearable area, though quite well spread.

Gerd Korteum et al. University of Oregon. Oregon is focusing on architectural infrastructure needed for generic wearables . Good stuff. They have a coherent architecture that addresses issues such as making wearable computers that are adaptive, context aware and part of a larger system.  Gerd was interested in setting up a workshop as part of next year's conference to focus on making flexible, general purpose wearable devices.

Ian Robinson and Barry Bronson from HP Labs in Palo Alto. Ian is working on mobile viewer appliances (ViewPad). Barry is the Palo Alto business development manager.

Bob Rosenberg from University College London. Bob was presenting his cording glove and biometric feedback device as a poster. He is still looking for funding for his continuation proposal - should find out next month.

Gadget Show

This was an opportunity for everyone to show off their favourite technical possession. Saw a few fun things:


XyberNaut. Showing their previous generation product, opposed to the latest MobileAssistant IV. Demoed a Verbex-recogniser based application for hyper-text navigation using speech and a head mounted display. I talked with them about the gap between wearables for vertical markets and wearables for the general public. They thought this gap would be closed within five years. They saw general-purpose wearable products used at work by specialists such as financial traders leading the way for the broader acceptance of wearables by the general public. This makes sense and follows the pattern of mobile phone adoption.

Via. Showing their light-weight belt-mounted product.

Microoptical Corporation demoed their Eyeglass display. This display looks much like a conventional pair of (thick glasses). They appeared at last year's conference. They are still monochrome sub VGA. By Xmas they should be colour and VGA. At the same time prices of current units should fall from $8000 to $2000 as they go into semi-mass production.

Twiddler. That classic one hand, input device.

Cell Computing. CardPC. A pentium motherboard squeezed into a credit card sized package. Compare with Chip and Mark's card?

CMU day

A series of presentations about the work going on at CMU. Click here for details.

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