Conference dwells on 'wearable computing'

Associated Press
Published November 4, 2007

BOSTON - From clothes riddled with sensors to name tags that detect our moods, computing's next wave could unleash small devices that increasingly augment everyday activities with digital intelligence.

That was the predominant vision at a conference on "wearable computing" held last month in Boston, where researchers showed off prototypes and discussed ideas.

For example, researchers from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology showed off stretchable, threadlike sensors that can be woven into shirts to detect their wearers' posture. People with back pain or injuries could be prompted on a PC or a mobile device to straighten up, pronto.

Stephane Beauregard of Germany's University of Bremen displayed a shoe-borne sensor whose tiny accelerometers can provide tracking in places satellite navigation systems either can't reach or can't describe with precision. The sensor has to be held in place by the shoelaces, but Beauregard expects a version that can fit inside a boot heel could be a year away. Firefighters and other emergency responders are a potential market.

Graduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Media Lab had black plastic badges around their necks that analyze multiple factors - including motion and speech patterns - to detect the level of engagement two people are exhibiting in a conversation.

Information gathered from the badges can be sent wirelessly to a computer or a phone to give their wearers helpful tips. Sales reps could be advised that a customer's interest seems to be waning.