Future Mobility with improved quality of life, better health care, fashion and entertainment. Innovative designs for mobile artifacts. New horizons for business and industry.
These are some of the opportunities that open when top industrial designers, the Royal Institute of Technology, the Stockholm School of Economics, and key Swedish industry cooperate with Professor Zary Segall and his thinkWearable; research group on a new class of “human aware” mobile devices.
“Sweden has an unparalleled advantage for leading this trend,” says Zary Segall, US professor, Fulbright scholar, who, on June 11th, is opening the exhibition Future Mobility; thinkWearable at the Tekniska Museet in Stockholm, and is publishing a book with the same name.
Personal devices could make everyday life easier and more pleasant. The problem? They’re obtrusive, non-communicating, and “non-people knowledgeable devices.” People who carry a computer, cell phone, PDA, and mp3 player in their pockets find themselves in a world of disconnected devices that do little to learn about the person’s lifestyle, health, emotions or contribute to face-to-face interaction with other people.
“Our aspiration is to transform the current computer user model that requires computer literacy into a model where the computer is human literate and able to proactively serve the user by taking clues from the human body, human emotions and human situations,” says Zary Segall, who is the 2002-2003 Fulbright Stockholm Distinguished IT Chair and the leader of the thinkWearable; Research Group.
If you enable all the deconstructed components of the personal devices to wirelessly communicate with each other, allow them to collect data on your vital signs and your lifestyle, make them aware of human situations and then integrate them into an existing wearable object such as a fashionable garment or accessory, suddenly they’re no longer disconnected devices; they become invisible functions of a person’s life style. You can think of them as fashion and lifestyle statements with information and communication functions, rather than devices. The wearable computers communicate with our personal and external worlds; they retrieve, store, and process data and help you to make judgments. They aid you in some proactive way and you do not need to think about them. The computers are invisible and integrated into your existing garments and accessories.
“In a purely technical sense this is already happening, or at least about to happen. But the technology isn’t what’s important. Instead, it’s the social and personal impact that this technology is enabling,” says Zary Segall, who is the 2002-2003 Fulbright Stockholm Distinguished IT Chair in Wireless E-commerce.
“My students, the faculty collaborators and the product designers are the heroes, they are brilliant and creative,” says Zary Segall. ”They understand the importance of promoting design and technology into social context. I’m very impressed by the results they’ve achieved in such a short time. Although there are, elsewhere, other projects with similar goals, I wouldn’t be surprised if the final products, designs and expertise generated by this research group will be translated into new opportunities for the Swedish people and industry.”
Nikolaus Frank (of Frank etc), who is responsible for the group’s product design, notes: “It was evident to me that here existed a thinking, an approach to a new and emerging technology, and as a result possible artifacts going beyond traditional human-centered objects.”
To date, the research group has produced two families of wearable, proactive artifact designs: the magicHat and the aWare. The artifacts contain a multitude of wireless components, such as earphones, video cameras, microphones, compasses, mobile phone technology and small vibrators. Remarkably, the research group, comprised of industrial designers, graduate students from technology, media and economics, collaborated to create not only the form and function of the artifacts, but also business models.
“Our approach is to position our research at the juncture between design, emerging technologies and business savvy,” emphasizes Dr. Segall.
The research group foresees that some artifacts will be owned; others will be rented for special occasions, but they all will add new dimensions to everyday happenings:
· The car hat communicates and/or replaces the mobile phone, the radio, the global positioning system (GPS) and many other built-in computers in modern cars. It also checks the traffic so that phone calls are mediated by the traffic situation, for example when drivers are passing other vehicles. If drivers need directions the hat’s vibrators indicate when to turn left, or right so that drivers can keep their eyes on the road.
· The ski headband signals to the lift that you have paid for the lift ticket. It tells you where your friends are on the slope, the lengths of lines at different lifts, and which slopes to avoid – after considering your skill level.
· The mobiHat keeps track of family and friends in an amusement park. It directs you back to members of your group if you split up. It tells you how long you have to wait in line to ride the Ferris wheel, and where you can get cup of coffee or a bite to eat without having to wait too long.
· The magic Tiara is handy when walking around the city. Thanks to the GPS and compass, the hat knows your position and the direction you are heading. It tells you the name of the statue you are standing in front of, the name of the building behind you and, if other tourists from Sweden are in the vicinity.
· The aWare messenger is based on your physical and emotional context and could autonomously decide, for example, if you are available, or not available to answer a particular phone call, or to interact with other information services.
· The aWare Vita Wear is measuring your vital signs and proactively communicates with a supporting community.
· The Wearable Server is your personal repository of information and your wearable communication center protecting your information and your privacy.
As we age, we still want to be independent even though we are a tad, more fragile and forgetful. Segall notes that there are already a few commercially available wearable devices for elderly care and predicts that in the near future commercial wireless accessories and garments, such as the magicHat and the aWare messenger will be able to better and unobtrusively serve the needs of the aging population. Using wearable non-obtrusive computers, such as Vita Wear, within elderly care should become naturally more acceptable and potentially economical. In this context, Segall emphasizes that computers cannot replace human contact; they could just make things easier and more comfortable.
Segall believes that wearing non-obtrusive “human aware” mobile devices could become a part of our daily lives in the next decade. He also believes that as we get closer to having the technological capabilities to build the wearable artifacts, it becomes critical to center their design around social practices and human emotions.
“When you think of Sweden,” says Segall, “you think of design, fashion, technology, and highly developed social, health, and elderly care. Wearable, human aware computer developments will occur at the intersection of these areas—an intersection that is unique for Sweden.”
The Fulbright Stockholm Distinguished IT-Chair in Wireless E-Commerce was made possible by the generous support of the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH), the Stockholm School of Economics (SSE), the Fulbright Commission, Telia, Ericsson, IBM Svenska AB and BrainHeart Capital.