By Kathryn M. O'Neill
Ever in the vanguard, Steve Mann PhD ’97 is continually inventing not only new technologies but new concepts and philosophies—along with the language to describe them. Best known as the father of wearable computing, Mann’s focus today is “mersivity”—advancing technology that connects people with the physical world.
Mann invented digital eyeglasses in 1984, decades before Google Glass came out in 2013, and a wristwatch videophone in 1998, 16 years ahead of the Apple Watch. Among techies, he is perhaps best known for pioneering high-dynamic-range (HDR) imaging, which enables many cameras today—including iPhone cameras—to produce better pictures, particularly in poor lighting. A professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Toronto, Mann also invented the hydraulophone, a musical instrument that forms notes using liquid; visitors can play one at many museum, gallery, and waterpark spaces around the world.
What’s common to all this work, Mann says, is a desire to employ technology to enhance the human experience while allowing users to remain immersed in the world around them. Pointing out that most technology today works best in dry, controlled environments, Mann says he wants to bend technology to the needs of humans to improve their lives without disruption