Wearable computing back in the news

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A couple of interesting wearable computing news pieces landed on my desk this week. First up is this one from Dr Peter Harrop, Chairman, IDTechEx, which looks at technology breakthroughs in human body sensing. He says that the Holst Centre in the Netherlands is important work in body area network to monitor vital signs or control drug delivery for e-medicine applications. One of the problems with in-body electronics is that they need power to function, and changing the battery when it runs out can be dangerous.

The trick is either to use low-power devices, such as this one developed by the Holst Centre, which is a ultra low-power heart activity monitor, or to use energy harvesting from the body, such as with bio-batteries or thermo electric generators. The latter approach currently favors electrodynamic harvesting combined with photovoltaics. The Holst Centre and imec have also developed wearable energy harvesters that consume heat naturally dissipated from the human body in order to operate. The device can be embedded in clothing and offers electrocardiography monitoring

Other organizations are also looking at how to cut the power required to transmit the data from the devices. Harrop says that researchers at Korea University in Seoul have developed a way of transmitting 10 megabits/second through the skin using one tenth of the amount of energy required by existing schemes.

The other piece looked at the development of sensors that allow you to use your skin as an input device. The researcher Chris Harrison's Skinput project uses a combination of sensors and a projector to allow for input, which allows product designers to create devices that would otherwise be too small to operate. In addition to tapping instructions on the arm, the sensors could detect other gestures such as finger flicks or taps. Harrison says that the human body is the ideal input device because everybody know instinctively how to use it.

The wonderful thing about the human body is that we are familiar with it," Harrison told BBC News. "Proprioception means that even if I spin you around in circles and tell you to touch your fingertips behind your back, you'll be able to do it. That gives people a a lot more accuracy then we have ever had with a mouse."

 You can see a video of Harrison's work here.

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.