The MIThril Vision

MIThril, a borglab production. Richard W. DeVaul, Jonathan Gips, Michael Sung, Sandy Pentland
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The MIThril project is driven by the need for a truly functional, wearable, and flexible research platform for context-aware wearable computing research, and inspired by the work of many researchers, professors, colleagues and friends. Our goal is not simply to build a platform, but to build a community of researchers, designers, and users. There is a great deal of technical depth and hard engineering behind MIThril, but first and foremost MIThril is about people and our desire to make people's lives better.

People vs. Users

The design philosophy of MIThril starts with people, not "users." One might use a hammer or PDA, but a person wears a watch or a shirt; the watch and shirt are always functioning and require a minimum of the wearer's attention.

Wearable computing is technology you live with; it must be synergistic, flexible, and adaptable to a wide range of circumstances. Our goal is to learn how to support people in their daily lives, which means building technology that is reliable, comfortable, useful, and makes maximal use of the time and attention of the person wearing it.

Human-Computer Interaction

Before we can make technology useful, we must understand the ways in which it can be used. In the case of wearable computing, no amount of sophistication in the hardware or computation will make up for a poor interface. Bad HCI on the desktop is annoying, bad HCI in a wearable is life-threatening. In order to build wearable applications and systems which are useful, we must first understand how people interact with the real world and each other. By understanding, sensing, and modeling these interactions, we can build interfaces and applications which facilitate and support people, rather than getting in their way.

Context Awareness and HCI

We believe that context awareness is critical to good wearable HCI. Context, or non-explicit user input, is gathered through sensing and modeling the person's environment, state, and task. By knowing something about where the person is and what they are doing, we can create interactions which proactivily support, anticipate, and facilitate the person's task.

Context awareness requires sensing and modeling. MIThril supports research in context awareness by providing a platform for both. The MIThril Body Bus supports a wide range of sensing options from (relatively) high-bandwidth USB cameras and microphones to low-bandwidth custom I2C sensors (accelerometers, biosensors, IR active tag readers, etc.). The MIThril computing cores and MIThril Body Network provide a computational resource for environment, task, and user modeling, and wireless connectivity to ship data off the body for external processing.

Research Applications

As much as possible we hope to make MIThril development a research application driven process; it is easy to loose sight of the overall goal (doing research to create technology that helps people) if we do not constantly tie the development process back to the research we want to do in the first place. For this reason we are committed to deploying research applications as quickly as we can with the tools available.


By making our designs and research available on the web, we hope to foster a community of MIThril researchers, developers, and (eventually) users. Over the coming months expect to see detailed plans (schematics, part lists, CAD files, etc.) for MIThril components as well as source code and other technical documentation. Please be patient; we are still in the prototyping phase and must still hand-build (and blue-wire hack) our boards, connectors, and cables to make them work. As of the time of this writing (mid November 2000), there are only two packaged, functioning MIThril vests in operation, and several more in various states of assembly and testing.

If you wish to be notified when new MIThril information becomes available, please send email to <> and ask to be subscribed to the MIThril announcement list.