The concept of wearable computers has been around for over half a century. Although the first wearable computer was invented to predict winning roulette numbers, wearable computers have the ability to benefit individuals and society. Wearable computers are by definition worn by the user, but are intended to interact with the wearer without punching keys or other manipulation. A wearable is always on and always working. It may have added features that interact with the environment such as GPS navigation and wireless communication.
In 1961, Ed Thorpe and Claude Shannon invented a cigarette pack-sized pocket computer that was designed to predict roulette wheels. In 1967, Hubert Upton invented a computer mounted within a pair of eyeglasses to assist hearing-impaired individuals when lip reading. Two themes were prevalent in the early days of wearable computing: to assist the disabled and to predict the roulette wheel.
As technology advanced, components grew smaller and wearable computers became more practical. In 1981, Steve Mann designed a backpack-mounted computer to control cameras and other photographic equipment. Called WearComp, for wearable computer, Professor Mann continues to develop his invention.
As intelligent agents become more sophisticated, the range of wearable computer applications continues to grow. Today's wearable computers have the ability to enhance the lives of the disabled, improve job performance, increase safety, monitor health, and provide real-time data to the user. Work and research continues to improve the performance and scope of the wearable computer in order to fully realize its potential.
Universities such as MIT, NC State, the University of Toronto, and many others continue to research and explore the ways that wearable computing will improve and enhance the lives of users in a variety of circumstances.