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Wearable computers a smart fashion trend

Glenn Chapman (via AFP/ SMH) | June 28, 2013
A wearable computing trend is at the heart of the "quantified self" movement as people track anything anytime.

Sophisticated and inexpensive sensors for tracking movement, sound, GPS locations and more combined with "killer apps" in powerful smartphones have set the stage for wearable computing to be commonplace, according to the professor.

"Contextually aware computers will be hot topics for at least the next decade," Smailagic said. "They can help you when you need help, even to look smarter.

"Everybody likes to have the kind of help contextual computing can provide."

Contextual computing goes beyond recognising where someone is to factoring in other information such as whether it's lunchtime or if someone has shown a preference for a nearby restaurant.

"When you combine wearable computing with sensors and machine learning algorithms then you get context, the computer knows your state and is able to help out clearly in the situation," Smailagic said.

He is confident Google Glass will be a hit despite privacy worries expressed about the yet-to-be-released internet-linked eyewear with camera capabilities.

Google Glass connects to the internet using Wi-Fi hot spots or, more typically, by being wirelessly tethered to mobile phones. Pictures or video are shared through the Google Plus social network.

"Wearable computing has to be unobtrusive, fit as a natural extension of your body, and not get in the way," Smailagic said. "Google Glass is on the right path to solve these problems."

The invention has been a hit with American tennis player Bethanie Mattek-Sands, who has been testing the special glasses as a training aid at this year's Wimbledon.

Apple chief Tim Cook last month said he sees promise in computers shrunk down and worn like watches.

He predicted there will be "tonnes of companies playing" in the wearable computing sector but sidestepped a question as to whether Apple would be among them with the creation of a rumoured "iWatch" device to be worn on the wrist.

"The wrist is interesting," Cook did allow.

Pebble smart watches created by a start-up that raised more than $US10 million in funding at crowd-source investment website Kickstarter recently began shipping to buyers.

The wearable computing craze has already spread to dogs, with start-up Whistle introducing a pendant that tracks canines.

Whistle devices attached to dog collars or harnesses use movement-sensing accelerometers to track activity and even how well a pet is sleeping, then relay the information wirelessly to smartphones or wi-fi hotspots.

An online database built in collaboration with researchers and veterinary groups allows individual dog activity patterns to be scrutinised for hints that something may be amiss.

"Traditional technology companies will have to start paying attention to how sensors are enabling us to live," said Ben Arnold, director of industry analysis for consumer technology at NPD.

"Consumers are ultimately going to become more aware of their data in the digital ether," he said. "I suspect wearables are going to disrupt the way tech firms are doing business now."


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