Wearable Computing

In Alex Lightman's vision of the future, people will not only use computers, they will wear them. Lightman, the founder of a company called Infocharms, hopes to begin selling "wearable computers" sometime soon.

Correspondent Peter Van Sant reports on what may be the last word in 21st century high fashion.

"Knowledge is power," says Lightman, most of whose products involve digital devices integrated in various ways into clothing. "And anyone who's connected to the Internet all the time - they're simply more powerful."

He says that most of the company's projects are in the research stage but that "there's a tsunami wave of wearables coming on to the market."

One of the pioneers of wearable computing was Thad Starner, who is also a co-founder (and chief technical officer) of Infocharms. Six years ago, while he was a grad student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Starner built his first wearable. He has been wearing one ever since.

Starner usually sees the world through the prism of a computer screen. The computer has an eyepiece that allows him to see the world at the same time as he view information on the computer screen. "It just looks like I have a monitor overlaying your face right now," Starner explains to Van Sant.

Starner's wearable computer is both powerful and portable. The main computer weighs only about a pound. The device also has a keyboard, called the "Twiddler," which allows Starner to type as he goes about his life.

Thad Starner is one of the pioneers of wearable computing.
Starner, who now teaches at Georgia Tech University, says the computer allows him to multitask very efficiently. He has taught himself to walk and twiddle at the same time. He can twiddle 60 words a minute. He often uses the computer to take notes on the fly.

"It's so fast and so natural," he says about taking notes while he talks. "And it really doesn't interrupt the flow of the conversation."

With constant access to the Internet, Starner can dash off an email whenever he wants. He lives his life online, he says. "I actually have most of the information in my life stored on my computer - things like my schedule, things about where the good movie theaters are, where the good restaurants are."

In time, wearables will only make communication that much easier, Lightman says. "We're really going be sharing thoughts with everybody, almost in real time," he says. "That's the world we're heading for."

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Web story by David Kohn;