A brief history of wearable computing

Questions, comments, and corrections write:
Bradley Rhodes <rhodes@media.mit.edu>, MIT Wearable Computing Project
This page is at http://wearables.www.media.mit.edu/projects/wearables/timeline.html
Many thanks to Thad Starner, Chip Maguire, Doug Platt, Sandy Pentland, Dick Urban, Jun Rekimoto, Edgar Matias, Al Becker and others for their contributions and suggestions.
Foundations (F): Thinkers, innovations, and experiments that helped pave the way for wearable computers.
Complete Systems (C): Complete wearable computers (general or special purpose)


1268 (F) Earliest recorded mention of eyeglasses
Roger Bacon made the first recorded comment on the use of lenses for optical purposes. However, by that time reading glasses made out of transparent quartz or beryl were already in use in both China and Europe.

1665 (F) Robert Hooke calls for augmented senses
Micrographia preface 1665: "The next care to be taken, in respect of the Senses, is a supplying of their infirmities with Instruments, and as it were, the adding of artificial Organs to the natural... and as Glasses have highly promoted our seeing, so 'tis not improbable, but that there may be found many mechanical inventions to improve our other senses of hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching."

1762 (F) John Harrison invents the pocket-watch
Harrison invented the first practical marine chronometer, a highly accurate and reliable clock needed to determine the longitude of a ship.

1907 (F) Aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont commissions the creation of the first wristwatch
Alberto Santos-Dumont, one of the early experimenters in heavier-than-air flying machines, commissioned the famous jeweler Louis Cartier to manufacture a small timepiece with a wristband to his specifications. The wristwatch allowed him to keep his hands free for piloting.

1945 (F) Vannevar Bush proposes the idea of a "memex" in his article "As We May Think" [MIT]
While Bush thought the memex would be desk-sized rather than wearable, it is an early mention of the augmented memory. "Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library. It needs a name, and to coin one at random, ``memex'' will do. A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility. It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory."

1960 (F) Heilig patents a head-mounted stereophonic television display.
In 1960 Heilig patented a stereophonic television Head-Mounted Display (HMD). This was followed by his patent in 1962 for the "Sensorama Simulator" (US Patent #3,050,870), a virtual reality simulator with handlebars, binocular display, vibrating seat, stereophonic speakers, cold air blower, and a device close to the nose that would generate odors that fit the action in the film. See "Virtual Reality" by Howard Rheingold, 1991, pp. 49-67.

1960 (F) Manfred Clynes coins the word "Cyborg"
Manfred Clynes and co-author Nathan Kline first coined the phrase "Cyborg" in a story called "Cyborgs and Space" published in Astronautics (September 1960). The term was used to describe a human being augmented with technological "attachments". The story has since been reprinted in "The Cyborg Handbook" edited by Chris Hables Gray.

1966 (C) Ed Thorp and Claude Shannon reveal their invention of the first wearable computer, used to predict roulette wheels [MIT]
The system was a cigarette-pack sized analog computer with 4 push buttons. A data-taker would use the buttons to indicate the speed of the roulette wheel, and the computer would then send tones via radio to a bettor's hearing aid. Though the system was invented in 1961, it was first mentioned in E. Thorp, Beat the Dealer, revised ed. in 1966. The details of the system were later published in Review of the International Statistical Institute, V. 37:3, 1969. Thorp also disclosed a similar system for beating the Wheel of Fortune gambling game in LIFE Magazine, March 27, 1964, pp. 80-91.

1966 (F) Sutherland creates first computer-based head-mounted display [MIT]
Sutherland created a tethered HMD using two CRTs mounted beside each of a wearer's ears, with half-silvered mirrors reflecting the images to the user's eyes. Another system determined where the user was looking and projected a monoscopic wireframe image such that it looked like a cube was floating in mid-air. The bulk of the system was attached to the ceiling above the wearer's head, earning the system the nickname "Sword of Damocles." See http://www.sun.com/960710/feature3/alice.html

1967 (F) Bell Helicopter experiments with HMDs with input from servo-controlled cameras [Bell Helicopter]
Bell Helicopter Company performed several early camera-based augmented-reality systems. In one, the head-mounted display was coupled with an infrared camera that would give military helicopter pilots the ability to land at night in rough terrain. An infrared camera, which moved as the pilot's head moved, was mounted on the bottom of a helicopter. The pilot's field of view was that of the camera. See http://www.sun.com/960710/feature3/alice.html for more details.

1967 (C) Hubert Upton invents analogue wearable computer with eyeglass-mounted display to aid lipreading [Bell Helicopter]
Hubert Upton designed an analogue wearable computer as an aid for lip-reading. Using high and low-pass filters, the system would determine if a spoken phoneme was a fricative, stop, voiced-fricative, voiced stop, or simply voiced. An LED mounted on ordinary eyeglasses illuminated to indicate the phoneme type. The LEDs were positioned to enable a simple form of augmented reality; for example, when a phoneme was voiced the LED at the bottom of the glass illuminated, making it seem as if the speaker's throat was glowing. The work was presented at the Conference on Speech-Analyzing Aids for the Deaf, June 14-17, 1967, and was subsequently published in Upton, H, "Wearable Eyeglass Speechreading Aid," American Annals of the Deaf, V113, 2 March 1968, pp. 222-229.

1968 (F) Douglas Engelbart demonstrates one-handed chording keyboard in NLS (oN Line System) [SRI]
At the Fall Joint Computer Conference, Dec 8, 1968, Engelbart demonstrated the NLS system, one of the first personal computer that paved the way for both the interactive personal computer and groupware. The system included one-handed keyboard, word processing, outline processing, split windows, hypermedia, mouse, shared documents, e-mail filtering, desktop conferencing, annotation of shared documents, interactive sharing, quarter sized video sharing, turn taking, and network information.

1972 (C) Alan Lewis invents a digital camera-case computer to predict roulette wheels [Cal Tech]
Like Thorp and Shannon's system, Lewis used a radio link between data taker and bettor. The data-taker used the computer to predict the roulette wheel, then whispered the prediction via radio link to the bettor's hearing-aid radio-receiver.

1977 (C) CC Collins develops wearable camera-to-tactile vest for the blind [Smith-Kettlewell]
The result of ten years research, C.C. Collins of the Smith-Kettlewell Institute of Visual Sciences developed a five pound wearable with a head-mounted camera that converted images into a 1024-point, 10" square tactile grid on a vest. The system was tested as a visual prostetic for the blind. See "Mobile Studies whith a Tactile Imaging Device," C.C. Collins, L.A. Scadden, and A.B. Alden, Fourth Conference on Systems & Devices For The Disabled, June 1-3, 1977, Seatle WA.

1977 (C): HP releases the HP 01 algebraic calculator watch [Hewlett-Packard]
The HP 01 calculator watch had 28 tiny keys on the watch face. Four keys were raised for easy finger access (date, alarm, memory and time), and two were recessed but could still be operated with the fingers (read/recall/reset and stopwatch). The remaining keys were meant to be pressed with a stylus that snapped into the clasp of the bracelet. See http://www.hp.com/calculators/history/1977.html

1978 (C) Eudaemonic Enterprises invents a digital wearable computer in a shoe to predict roulette wheels [Eudaemonic Enterprises]
Using a CMOS 6502 microprocessor with 5K RAM, Eudaemonic Enterprises (Doyne Farmer, Norman Packard, and others) created a shoe computer with toe-control and inductive radio communications with between a data taker and better. This is the only known roulette machine of the time to show a statistical profit on a gambling run, though they never made the "big score." See The Eudaemonic Pie, Thomas A. Bass, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985.

1979 (F) Sony introduces the Walkman [Sony]
Sony introduces the Walkman, a commercial wearable cassette player. Later products would include Music CD-players.

1980 (F) Upton and Goodman file for patent on LED raster display [Textron, Inc]
Hubert Upton and James Goodman filed for a patent on a "vibratory scan optical display" where fiber-optical elements were driven by LEDs and scanned with an "electromechanical exciter." The patent was granted in 1982, patent number 311999.

1981 (C) Steve Mann designs backpack-mounted computer to control photographic equipment
While still in high-school Steve Mann wired a 6502 computer (as used in the Apple-II) into a steel-frame backpack to control flash-bulbs, cameras, and other photographic systems. The display was a camera viewfinder CRT attached to a helmet, giving 40 column text. Input was from seven microswitches built into the handle of a flash-lamp, and the entire system (including flash-lamps) was powered by lead-acid batteries.

1983 (C) Taft commercializes toe-operated computers based on Z-80's for counting cards
At least by 1983, Keith Taft was selling Z-80 based shoe-computers with special software for card-counting in blackjack. See The Eudaemonic Pie, Thomas A. Bass, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1985.

1984 (F) William Gibson writes Neuromancer
This book founded the genre of Cyberpunk, the dystopian future in which humans are augmented with computer implants.

1986 (C) Steve Roberts builds Winnebiko II, a recumbent bicycle with on-board computer and chording keyboard
Winnebiko II was the first of Steve Roberts' forays into nomadic computing that allowed him to type while riding. It included a packet data communication system for email via ham radio, an offline HP laptop, chording keyboard for typing while riding, and 20 watts of solar panels. The bike was later replaced by BEHEMOTH (Big Electronic Human-Energized Machine... Only Too Heavy), a more sophisticated system that included a heads up display. See http://www.microship.com/

1987 (F) The movie Terminator is released
Of special note are the scenes from the point-of-view of the Terminator cyborg, with text and graphical information overlayed on top of the real world.

1989 (F) Private Eye head-mounted display sold by Reflection Technology [Reflection Tech]
The display (designated the "P4") is a 720 x 280 pixel monochrome (red) monitor in a 3.5" X 1.5" X 1.25" package. Screen size is 1.25" on the diagonal, but the image appears to be a 15" display at 18" away. See http://www.reflection.com/

1990 (C) Gerald Maguire and John Ioannidis demonstrate the Student Electronic Notebook, with Private Eye and mobile IP [Columbia]
The IBM/Columbia Student Electronic Notebook Project used Toshiba diskless AIX notebook computers (prototypes) using direct sequence spread spectrum radio links to provide, the providing all the usual TCP/IP based services, NFS mounted file systems, X windows and a stylus based input systems + virtual keyboard, and running the Andrew environment. The work was first shown at the DARPA Workshop on Personal Computer Systems, Washington, D.C., 18 January 1990, and first published in J. Peter Bade, G.Q. Maguire Jr., and David F. Bantz, The IBM/Columbia Student Electronic Notebook Project, IBM, T. J. Watson Research Lab., Yorktown Heights, NY, 29 June 1990

1990 (F) Olivetti develops an active badge system, using infrared signals to communicate a person's location [Olivetti]
Olivetti developed a name badge that transmitted a unique id to IR receivers placed in rooms around a building. This allowed these "smart rooms" to track a person's location and log it in a central database. The badges measured 55x55x7mm, weighed 40g, and could be made extremely cheaply. See ftp://ftp.orl.co.uk:/pub/docs/ORL/tr.90.2.ps.Z

1991 (C) Doug Platt debuts his 286-based "Hip-PC" [Select Tech]
Doug Platt's system was a shoebox-sized computer based on the Ampro "Little Board" XT module. The screen was a Reflection Technology Private Eye display and the keyboard was an Agenda palmtop used as a chording keyboard attached to the belt. It included a 1.44 megabyte floppy drive. Later versions incorporated additional equipment from Park Engineering. The system debuted at "The Lap and Palmtop Expo" on April 16th, 1991.

1991 (C) CMU team develops VuMan 1 for viewing and browsing blueprint data [CMU]
Students in a Summer-term course at Carnegie Mellon's Engineering Design Research Center developed the VuMan 1, a wearable computer for viewing house blueprints. Input was through a three-button unit worn on the belt, and output was through Reflection Tech's Private Eye. The CPU was an 8 MHz 80188 processor with 0.5 MB ROM. See http://www.cs.cmu.edu/afs/cs.cmu.edu/project/vuman/www/home.html

1991 (F) Mark Weiser proposes idea of Ubiquitous Computing in Scientific American [Xerox PARC]
Ubiquitous Computing proposes a world in which most everyday objects have computational devices embedded in them. Weiser's Landmark article, The Computer for the 21st Century appeared the September 1991 issue of Scientific American, pp 66-75.

1993 (C) Thad Starner starts constantly wearing his computer, based on Doug Platt's design [MIT]
Starner had attempted previous wearables based on both a TRS-80 model 100 and a SPARC Workstation, but never got them working reliably. When he heard Doug Platt give a talk at the MIT Media Lab he shifted over to Platt's system based on a 286 chip. In June '93, Platt and Starner custom made Starner's first working system with parts from a kit made by Park Enterprises, a Private Eye display, and the Twiddler chording keyboard made by Handykey. Many iterations later this system became the MIT "Tin Lizzy" wearable computer design. See http://wearables.www.media.mit.edu/projects/wearables/lizzy/

1993 (C) BBN finishes the Pathfinder system, a wearable computer with GPS and radiation detection system [BBN]
BBN's Pathfinder system was completed in Fall 1993, and included a wearable computer, Global Positioning System (GPS), and radiation detection system.

1993 (F) Thad Starner writes first version of the Remembrance Agent augmented memory software [MIT]
The Remembrance Agent (RA) was an automated associative memory that would recommend relevant files from a database, based on whatever notes were currently being written on a wearable computer. The systems was integrated into Emacs, and later was rewritten as part of continuing research by Bradley Rhodes. See http://www.media.mit.edu/~rhodes/Papers/remembrance.html

1993 (F) Feiner, MacIntyre, and Seligmann develop the KARMA augmented reality system [Columbia]
Steve Feiner, Blair MacIntyre, and Dorée Seligmann at Columbia University developed KARMA: Knowledge-based Augmented Reality for Maintenance Assistance. Users would wear a Private Eye display over one eye, giving an overlay effect when the real world was viewed with both eyes open. KARMA would overlay wireframe schematics and maintenance instructions on top of whatever was being repaired. For example, graphical wireframes on top of a laser printer would explain how to change the paper tray. The system used sensors attached to objects in the physical world to determine their locations, and the entire system ran tethered from a desktop computer. See http://www.cs.columbia.edu/graphics/projects/karma/karma.html

1994 (C) Mik Lamming and Mike Flynn develop "Forget-Me-Not," a continuous personal recording system [Xerox EuroPARC]
The Forget-Me-Not was a wearable device that would record interactions with people and devices and store this information in a database for later query. It interacted via wireless transmitters in rooms and with equipment in the area to remember who was there, who was being talked to on the telephone, and what objects were in the room, allowing queries like "Who came by my office while I was on the phone to Mark?"

1994 (C) Edgar Matias debuts a "wrist computer" with half-QWERTY keyboard [UofT]
Built by Edgar Matias and Mike Ruicci of the University of Toronto, this "wrist computer" presented an alternative approach to the emerging HUD + chord keyboard wearable. The system was built from a modified HP 95LX palmtop computer and a Half-QWERTY one-handed keyboard. With the keyboard and display modules strapped to the operator's forearms, text could be entered by bringing the the wrists together and typing. The system debuted at the CHI-94 conference in Boston, and is now being productized under the the name "half keyboard". See http://www.dgp.toronto.edu/people/ematias/papers/chi96 The same technology was used by IBM researchers to create a "belt computer" -- see: http://www.almaden.ibm.com/cs/user/inddes/halfkb.html

1994 (F) DARPA starts Smart Modules Program
DARPA starts Smart Modules Program to develop a modular, humionic approach to wearable and carryable computers. Develops a variety of products including computers, radios, navigation systems, human-computer interfaces, etc. that have both military and commercial use. See http://web-ext2.darpa.mil/ETO/SmartMod/index.html

1994 (F) Steve Mann starts transmitting images from a head-mounted camera to the Web [MIT]
In December 1994, Steve Mann developed the "Wearable Wireless Webcam." Webcam transmitted images point-to-point from a head-mounted analog camera to an SGI base station via amateur TV frequencies. The images were processed by the base station and displayed on a webpage in near real-time. (The system was later extended to transmit processed video back from the base station to a heads-up display and was used in augmented reality experiments performed with Thad Starner.)

1996 (F) DARPA sponsors "Wearables in 2005" workshop
This July, 1996 workshop brought together industrial, university and military visionaries to work on the common theme of delivering computing to the individual.

1996 (F) Boeing hosts wearables conference in Seatle
Boeing hosted a small conference on wearable computing August 19-21, 1996. In attendance were researchers and administrators from industry, academia, and independent laboratories. Several vendors of displays, speech recognition systems, and full wearable computers were also present. There were 204 people registered for the event.

1997 (F) Creapôle Ecole de Création and Alex Pentland produce Smart Clothes Fashion Show
The fashion show was a design collaboration between the students and faculty of Creapôle Ecole de Création (Paris) and Prof. Alex Pentland (M.I.T., Boston), with the goal of envisioning the impending marriage of fashion and wearable computers. Beginning in April 1996, designs were iterated and clothes produced, with the final runway fashion show was held at the Pompidou Center in Paris in February 1997.

1997 (F) CMU, MIT, and Georgia Tech co-host the first IEEE International Symposium on Wearables Computers
CMU, MIT, and Georgia Tech co-hosted the IEEE International Symposium on Wearables Computers in Cambridge, MA October 13-14, 1997. The symposium was a full academic conference with published proceedings and papers ranging from sensors and new hardware to new applications for wearable computers. There were 382 people registered for this event. See http://iswc.gatech.edu/wearcon97/default.htm