The path to a wearable future lies in academia

Mon May 4, 2015 5:00pm EDT
 
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By Jeremy Wagstaff

May 5 (Reuters) - For a glimpse of what is, what might have been and what may lie ahead in wearable devices, look beyond branded tech and Silicon Valley start-ups to the messy labs, dry papers and solemn conferences of academia.

There you'd find that you might control your smartphone with your tongue, skin or brain; you won't just 'touch' others through a smart Watch but through the air; and you'll change how food tastes by tinkering with sound, weight and colour.

Much of today's wearable technology has its roots in these academic papers, labs and clunky prototypes, and the boffins responsible rarely get the credit some feel they deserve.

Any academic interested in wearable technology would look at today's commercial products and say "we did that 20 years ago," said Aaron Quigley, Chair of Human Interaction at University of St. Andrews in Scotland.

Take multi-touch - where you use more than one finger to interact with a screen: Apple popularized it with the iPhone in 2007, but Japanese academic Jun Rekimoto used something similar years before.

And the Apple Watch? Its Digital Touch feature allows you to send doodles, 'touches' or your heartbeat to other users. Over a decade ago, researcher Eric Paulos developed something very similar, called Connexus, that allowed users to send messages via a wrist device using strokes, taps and touch.

"I guess when we say none of this is new, it's not so much trashing the product," says Paul Strohmeier, a researcher at Ontario's Human Media Lab, "but more pointing out that this product has its origins in the research of scientists who most people will never hear of, and it's a way of acknowledging their contributions."

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