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Wearable computer

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Original author: 
Cyrus Farivar


Stephen Balaban is a co-founder of Lambda Labs, based in Palo Alto and San Francisco.

Cyrus Farivar

PALO ALTO, CA—Even while sitting in a café on University Avenue, one of Silicon Valley’s best-known commercial districts, it’s hard not to get noticed wearing Google Glass.

For more than an hour, I sat for lunch in late May 2013 with Stephen Balaban as he wore Google's new wearable tech. At least three people came by and gawked at the newfangled device, and Balaban even offered to let one woman try it on for herself—she turned out to be the wife of famed computer science professor Tony Ralston.

Balaban is the 23-year-old co-founder of Lambda Labs. It's a project he hopes will eventually become the “largest wearable computing software company in the world.” In Balaban's eyes, Lambda's recent foray into facial recognition only represents the beginning.

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Google made quite a splash with its Project Glass video earlier this month. While Google’s vision of wearable computing still looks a bit like science fiction today, a new report by Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps argues that “in three years, wearables will matter to every product strategist” and that smart developers should start experimenting with applications for wearables on the “big five” platforms (Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook) today.

In Rotman Epps’ vision of wearable computing in the near future, one of these major platforms will have to back the concept for it to go mainstream.

Specifically, she notes that Apple, with its “polished marketing, channel, and brand,” could use its vast developer ecosystem to incubate many of these projects by giving even it’s more low-end products (like the iPod nano) support for more sensors, WiFi and Bluetooth.

Google, says Rotman Epps, could become a major player due to the open nature of its Android platform. Android, after all, is already being uses by basic wearable devices like the Sony SmartWatch and the Wimm One. She also warns, though, that Google’s “diffuse attention and lack of channel” will make it hard for the company to actually turn those ideas into products.

Microsoft, with its operating systems optimized for mobile and its Kinect sensor, as well as Amazon with its vast product catalog and Facebook with its rich social data could also play a major role in making wearable computing mainstream.

Indeed, Forrester’s analysts think wearables will follow a similar path to that of the smartphone market: In the first phase, Apple will create an early app and accessory ecosystem for wearable computing. Google’s open platform, however, will give developers more freedom and broader wearable experimentation. Microsoft, thanks to its recent shift toward open web standards, will then be able to offer something akin to an “anti-platform” platform for a future operating system for wearables that could be even more flexible than Apple’s and Google’s offerings.

In Forrester’s view, then, smart developers and product strategists should start to cultivate partnerships with apparel companies like Nike and Adidas now and those companies should also start to reach out to the developer community and the big five platforms.

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Originally posted in The Technium

Thad Starner is one of several pioneers who have been personally experimenting with continuous visual input devices, sometime called wearable computing. To most people it looks like he has a screen attached to his eyeball. Starner wore his for years (as has others like Steve Mann, who started doing this earlier). They are living the dream/nightmare of being on the web 24/7, even while walking. So what is it like?

The main question: If your brain is connected to the internet, can you think of anything else? Michael Chorost interviewed Starner (below) in World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet, p.142,160) As far as I can tell, research with the population at large to date suggests that our ability to multitask is not as great as we think it is. In other worlds, when we multitask we do less well on more tasks. When Chorost asked him about this, Starner makes an interesting counter claim:

Mike chorost and thad starner

Starner replied that he multiplexes rather than multitasks. Multiplexing means doing tasks that reinforce each other. For him, taking notes and having conversations are tasks that parallel and enrich each other. They are multiplexed. On the other hand, he doesn't try to manage email during a conversation or while walking down the street. That would be multitasking. "If the wearable task is directly related to the conversation, the the user's attention is not 'split' and multiplexing can be pretty effective."

As Thad Starner explained to me, distraction can be avoided by multiplexing rather than multitasking.... We have no difficulty absorbing all at once the music of a parade, the sight of uniformed marchers, bright sunlight, an autumn breeze, a pain in one's knee, the smell and taste of hot dogs, and the clasp of a loved ones's hand.

I can think of other multiplexing combinations like driving a car while auditing to a book. In theory this should not work. How can you read and drive at the same time? I know that when I am listening to an audible book I am totally engaged. If it is a great book, I am transported to that world 100%. I would think my conscious mind would not be capable of doing anything else. Yet, I am pretty sure that my driving while listening to books is very safe. I must be multiplexing the two actions, though I don't know what synergy they have. There seems to be some non-rival part of my brain that takes over the driving. That part of my brain has been driving for many years, and it has also been driving *while listening to books* for almost 30 years! (Zero accidents so far.) Both are fairly high-order tasks. I haven't researched the science on auditing while driving so I don't know if I am merely fooling myself, but it sure feels like multiplexing to me.

We can listen to music while cooking. Some folks do bills while watching TV. There may be other multiplexing combinations I don't know about. Is there an example of multiplexing you do?

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