. Wearable Computers 42194 Essay

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Introduction

Advances in miniaturization, computing, microelectronics, telecommunications as well as textiles and fabrics have now made it possible to reduce the size of a computer sufficiently, for this computer to be worn on the human body. These small and lightweight computer systems also carry in them a level of technological sophistication as well as a computing power that was not thought to be possible in a device of the size and weight. Novel devices and techniques for computer interaction as well as wearable display devices have made it possible for these systems to be usefully deployed to assist their human users in carrying out a number of tasks. Wearable computers are capable of interacting with larger computers with more power, thanks to the wireless and communications technologies which have now been made available. Wearable computers can assist those who wear them in a number of ways and help them to perform tasks which they may be involved with more efficiently. Potential applications of wearable computing are only limited by the imagination of the designers of such systems and these wearable systems have been found to be useful in many areas of human endeavour including the battlefield, trading floors in the stock market, when performing the task of data collection in the field as well as in health care. In this paper, an attempt has been made to explore the relatively new field of wearable computing and to examine various issues of importance that are associated with wearable computer systems. Wearable computers for some applications and the issues related to wearable computing are discussed and presented in sections below.

In the next section, a wearable computer system for use in the collection of data for field archaeology is described and presented.

A Wearable Computer System for Field Archaeology

A wearable computer is simply a computer that can be worn on the body and this computer may assist the user to perform tasks which may be assisted by such an approach. The list of such tasks is only limited by the imagination. Wearable computers can help workers perform complex tasks such as those associated with aircraft maintenance, surgery, health monitoring of the chronically ill and assist those with memory impairments such as Parkinsoni??s disease. These wearable computers can help users with the visual recognition of landscape through wearable augmented reality systems, make tasks easier in the construction industry and help the archaeologist or the outdoor field workers such as a botanist perform their job. Archaeology, field archaeology and archaeological excavation can be exacting work with a need to record a lot of pertinent information and observations while referring to existing records. Field archaeology refers to the use of techniques such as ground penetrating radar, geophysics and satellite photography etc to gather archaeological information. Wearable computers in the context of field archaeology make it easier to access and collect data. Wearable computing may be used to digitise and store documents as well as site information assisting with the cross referencing of a site. Image, text and site measurement data may be transmitted wirelessly and images from aerial surveys may be retrieved as required. The wearable computer can provide quick access and visualisation of data.

When designing a wearable archaeological computer, it is appropriate to consider the applications and the technologies that will be required. Visualisations and retrieval of site data are applications which will require superior computing power as compared to what is available on a PDA. The ability to interface with a desktop and how applications may be altered to accommodate the use of a wearable computer is also important for a design. It will be appropriate to consider the technologies that are available and how these may be integrated with the right computing power. Mobile communication technologies and the use of a positioning system will have to be explored and these systems should be incorporated into a good design

Field Archaeology Wearable Computer Developed at the University of Birmingham

The wearable computer system for archaeology that has been developed at the University of Birmingham has a 700 MHz mobile Pentium 3 processor with a 256 K memory and a 30GB hard drive. The system uses an embedded Windows XP operating system and can be worn on a belt that is tied around an archaeologisti??s waist with its batteries that support at least eight hour of battery life. Lithium i?? Polymer batteries are helpful for this application, although hydrogen fuel cells can also be used. The system can support wireless, networking and imaging through a single USB port and a wearable augmented reality display may be added to it in order to support the display of maps, field referencing or photo as well as text information. The head worn display also contains audio input devices. Interfacing to other input devices such as those for text and sketching is also supported. The system can connects to desktop computers through the 802.11b wireless LAN standard and extended range of 20 Km has been demonstrated for this system. A base station also makes it possible to provide connectivity to remote computers. A smart screen that is readable in the high intensity sunlight is something which is quite important on the field.

A wearable computer system such as the system described above can be very useful on an archaeological site, making it possible to do the painstaking work of recording quickly and also providing a constant link with the office or the laboratory. The concepts involved in the design of a wearable computer may also be extended to cover other field activities such as those related to construction or healthcare.

A wearable computer must be able to readily interact with its users and present an interface that is adequate for the tasks that are being assisted. However, there are limitations involved with user interfaces which are discussed below.

Technical Limitations of User Interfaces for Wearable Computing Systems

Wearable computers have limitations that are most often associated with the display screen and the control of the computer. Visual displays of the computer may be wasteful for the eyes because the user may be involved in doing other tasks such as driving, walking, maintenance work or surgery etc. Input devices to the wearable computer can be difficult to use because the hands are involved in other important tasks that the user must perform and which are related to the job at hand. Posture control is important to the user and when the limbs are involved in posture control, interactions with the user interface can become difficult. Input techniques that are based on keyboards or writing devices also require a screen for visual feedback of commands to the user. Some wearable computers designs have attempted to improve the user interface by providing devices which make it possible to type in the air without a keyboard or to accept voice commands through a speech interface. However, even these devices need some sort of visual feedback for the human operator to be sure that the right commands have been issued and have been recognised by the computer. Perhaps visual feedback can be provided using augmented display devices on a head mounted wearable display. However, there are limitations related to computing capabilities and bandwidth for interactions with the wearable computer. Speech interactions can be difficult because of the acoustic clutter in the ambiance and at present even desktop speech recognition systems do not perform with a high degree of reliability. Hence, totally hands free operation of the computer with full locomotion capabilities being made available for the user and a total concentration on the task that the user needs to perform with a minimal attention to interactions with the wearable computer is not entirely possible. Because of the requirement to reduce size, the tactile input buttons on wearable computers will be small in size and hence difficult to use. Some wearable systems have attempted to improve the user interface by adding systems which make it possible to recognise hand, upper body and head gestures as a means of input. Although gesture recognition from sensor inputs from various sensors placed on the body is possible, it can be erroneous and the person wearing the computer has to get used to interacting with the computer through gestures and wearing sensors. Because the wearable computer must perform flawlessly as the user moves through a constantly changing ambiance with changing levels of ambient noise and lighting levels, there is a need for the audiovisual input and feedback system to automatically change sound feedback levels, video intensity and microphone sensitivity for enhanced user comfort. Hence, there is a requirement for situation-aware interface design which will make it possible for the wearable computer to recognise context and the task that the user is performing, their psychological state and other key inputs related to the ambiance, adjusting the interface according to these variables. Wearable computer interaction systems that depend on eye i?? tracking and lip reading are also being developed for a more natural user interaction, but these systems are also prone to errors.

In the design of the wearable computer as a system and hence for the design of the human interface, it is important to reduce power consumption as far as possible. The ability to provide low levels of power is restrictive for what can be used for the design of the interface system. There is also a need for trying to achieve a degree of standardisation for wearable computers and their human interfaces so that the users of such system do not have to learn about a new wearable if there is a requirement for wearing a different system.

Because wearable computers are going to be in frequent use and may be required to be worn for prolonged periods of time by humans, they have to be designed with human limitations and ergonomic principles in mind. These issues are discussed in the next section

Human Factors that are Associated with Wearable Computing

As in the design of all machines which are to be used by humans, the design of wearable computers must consider factors related to safety, ergonomics, anthropometry and ease of use or usability. Obviously, the most important set of human factors in the design of the wearable computer are those related to the safety of the user. When designing the augmented reality displays, it is important to ensure that the information being displayed is readily understood by the user and that there are no short or long term vision problems associated with using the augmented reality display. Some degree of occlusion is likely in an environment, but the designers should try to minimise this occlusion. Controls need to be provided to ensure that the luminous intensity and focus of the visual information can be adjusted and there should be no hazardous emissions. The range of human hearing and the level of ambient noise are important for the design of the audio in the human computer interface. Wearable computers are expected to assist the users perform tasks and not to hinder them. It is, therefore, important to give adequate consideration to the cognitive load of the user and what may happen if the user is unable to promptly respond to the computer because they are concentrating on another task. The information that is presented to the user should be succinct and not become overwhelming. Continuous interaction with an easy dialogue is required. Ergonomic factors related to the comfort of the users are important and it is expected that wearing the computing gear will not put the user under stress. Some sources of stress are associated with the weight of the wearable computer, the fabric used in the construction of wearable components, the temperature and vibration emanating from the equipment and the human computer interface for the wearable computer. The placement of sensors for the wearable and their wired or wireless interconnections with the computing unit should be such that they do not pose a hazard to the user and there should not be any risk of accidents due to entanglements with objects in the ambiance. Anthropometric factors associated with the dimensions and the limitations of the human body such as the reach of the human arm, waist dimensions, circumference of the human head, stature, dimensions of the chest etc all need to be considered for wiring of sensors, design of belts and other fixtures as well as the design of augmented displays. The wearable should be light with belts and straps of the appropriate length and width to fit the average human in the population with a provision for personalised adjustment.

The most important feature for enhancing the usability of a wearable computer apart from the human factors that have been mentioned above is the careful design of the human computer interface. A wearable computer is designed to assist with a task and if it takes longer to perform the task or more difficult than the wearable computer has not quite succeeded. The human computer interface consisting of the hardware and the software should be able to cater to the human cognitive requirements. The response time should be within acceptable limits and the display software menus and inputs should present choices that will be of real assistance to the user. These choices should meaningful and should be presented in a user friendly as well as assistive manner.

Not all wearable systems are associated with assisting users to perform their required tasks in hazardous environments involving military battlefields, the toxic environments of a chemical plant, space or oceans. Wearable computers can also be a life saver for the elderly and the chronically ill who may be forced to live alone because of the societal structures associated with individualism and capitalism. The next section discusses the use of wearable devices for use in healthcare.

A Wearable Computing Application which can be of a Real Benefit for the Chronically Ill

There are many applications that can benefit from the use of wearable computers, but the use of wearable computers for monitoring the personal health of the chronically ill, who are usually elderly, can greatly enhance their independence and also make it possible for them to receive urgent attention when required. Many chronically ill patients may need to live independent lives despite their illness because of their situation in an individualistic society. Wearable computers consisting of sensors capable of monitoring vital signs such as ECG, temperature, blood pressure, glucose level and respiration rate etc can deliver useful information about the physical condition of the user. The sensor information may then be fed into a wearable computer which can process input signals along with other health related information about the patient which may have been fed into a database on this computer to determine if alarms or alerts need to be generated. Alarms may be generated to alert a nearby health centre, carer or the nursing staff through a wireless link such as one through a wireless LAN or a mobile cellular network. The wearable garment may generate alerts for the patient to take medicines at the appropriate time and require a feedback from the patient to monitor if a medicine has been taken. The wearable computer may also alert the patient to perform a blood test or take insulin if the patient is diabetic. The date gathered through the sensors may be stored on a hospital database for access by doctors to assist in their care and management of the patient. Emergency alarm and voice communications with a health worker may be activated manually by the patient or automatically by the computer, if the measurement of vital signs requires this. The position of the patient can be constantly monitored through the Global Positioning System or the GPS to ensure that they are at safe locations and instructions may be issued to the patient by a doctor or a health care worker. In case of an acute emergency, an ambulance may also be despatched to assist the patient if required. The wearable components can be sensed by a base station linked to them through a Bluetooth interface and this base station may use GSM, GPRS and UMTS to link to the wide area network. Doctors may access the medical database being generated for the patient using the internet and issue instant instructions to the patient or other staff if required.

A Personal Health Monitoring System for the Chronically Ill

The advantages of a personal health monitoring system are obvious. Patients require shorter periods of hospitalisation and hence there are lower medical care costs that are involved. The chances of death especially for patients suffering from cardiac diseases and diabetes are significantly reduced. There is an improvement in the quality of life and hospitals can concentrate on looking after other patients who may need to be cared for. However, the wearable system is required to be well designed so that it is very simple to operate and does not become an added burden for the patient. Patients suffering from cardiac problems do not need any surprises or added burdens that can aggravate them or cause stress. The loss of face-to-face contact and reduced personal visits to see the doctor may mean that the patient will have to take a greater level of responsibility associated with caring for their health. Unless the patient wants to, there are no guarantees that the required medicines will be taken and there will be no nurses that are instantly available to take care of sudden emergencies. A security breach in the communication system of the wearable is possible due to the relatively poor security associated with wireless communication systems and the results of a patient receiving doctori??s orders that were not sent by the doctor or an ambulance arriving because of false triggering can be expensive or even catastrophic. However, such a device is an interesting addition to the range of possibilities for the use of computers in healthcare and medicine.

The environment in which a wearable computer is likely to be used has an impact on the design of such wearable systems. In the next section, the impact of the environment on the design of wearable computers is discussed.

Environmental Factors that have an Impact on the Usability of a Wearable Computer and its User Interface

Environmental factors such as ambient sound, vibration, light, temperature, humidity, electromagnetic blind spots, chemically contaminated atmosphere, electromagnetically noisy environment or an ambiance that is contaminated by radiation may render a wearable computer difficult or impossible to use. An environment that is filled with noise may make it impossible to provide audio inputs to the computer or to decipher any audio feedback. Excessive or inadequate ambient lighting such as harsh sunlight can make it impossible to decipher the visual screen or read the augmented reality display. Rain, excessive humidity or the presence of water or corrosive chemicals can ruin the display electronics, sensors or the computing elements of a wearable computer. The human body on which the wearable computer is worn is by itself a hostile environment with corrosive sweat and ample opportunities to subject computing devices to shocks. Wearable computers have also been in use underwater, but their design involving the construction of waterproof systems is what makes this possible. If wearable sensors are connected through a Bluetooth interface which operates on the 2.4 GHz industrial, scientific and medical or the ISM band is susceptible to interference from devices such as microwave ovens as well as from other sources. This band can also become very crowded in environments with a lot of Bluetooth devices which require point-to-point connectivity for each device. If using the wireless local area network communications network or packet radio for communications with the wide area network or base station, there may be regions where there is a radio blind spot or handover of the device from one radio sell to the other may be required. Device handover can result in temporary loss of communications which may have an impact on the wearable device performance.

The human computer interface for a wearable computer needs to be carefully designed with due consideration being given to the context in which the device is likely to operate. It is not possible to devote much attention to interacting with the wearable if the user is concentrating on other important tasks which require their attention, such as driving. Thus if a wearable computer is required to perform a useful function in an environment which has many distractions such as crowded streets, workplaces with lots of people interacting with each other, social situations in which there is a need to interact with other people or when there is a need to operate machines, the wearable interface has to be appropriately designed. Wearable computer systems may be used in situations such as the stock market applications, military battle field environments and entertainment or process control industries with unique demands for interaction associated with each situation. Even the size of buttons or the visual display can have a bearing on usability in a situation. The cognitive load associated with interacting with a wearable computer needs to be minimised for all situations and this means that the interaction software must be able to present information in a user friendly manner with intelligent deciphering of inputs and a sensing of the context. In military situations where the devise will be operating in extremely harsh environments, it is important that the computer be able to degrade gracefully with all care being taken for the safety of the user. The designer should give appropriate thought to the likely impact of an augmented reality display blowing up in close proximity to the useri??s eye, the user receiving electric shocks or the content of the battery leaking. Hence, it is important to consider the environment in which the wearable computer will be used and to design the wearable after considering the peculiarities of an environment.

Wearable computers and their users are very likely to be highly dependant on all their computing, communications and sensing subsystems flawlessly. Failure of a subsystem or sensing errors can endanger the user or feed erroneous input data into the computer which will then generate erroneous information for the wearable computer user. In the next section, registration errors, or the phenomenon of mis-registration in wearable computing is discussed.

Registration Errors in Wearable Computing

Mis-registration refers to an error in the information that has been sensed or presented by a computer and the real world value or input that was expected to have been sensed. Registration errors can occur with inputs from any of the sensors connected to a wearable and may occur due to sensor resolution, malfunction or external interference. Registration errors in augmented reality or head mounted vision systems can result in a discrepancy between the real world view and the displayed information. The coordinates of the tracking sensors or a video camera are required to be translated into the sensory organs of the user, such as the eye observing the augmented reality display. Head mounted display systems or the HMD have to translate the real world through a camera into the useri??s pupil. After an initial calibration, any shift in the HMD camera system with respect to the useri??s pupil will result in a registration error in which the real world situation does not coincide with the image that is being presented in the HMD. Images of reality that are presented on the HMD may appear tilted, shifted, out of position or have the wrong colours. Parallax errors are possible especially over short viewing distances. Prismatic effects in the display lens can also cause image registration problems for the user. The problem of errors in optical registration is illustrated below. Perceptual distortion can also occur in HMD because of the perceived change in the shape of raster scanned pictures being projected into the eye as a result of rapid eye movements. As a result of such distortions, users have reported illusions and feelings of depression when using wearable HMD. These illusions and feelings of depression can be eliminated as a result of better design. If both left and right eye view is being presented, then it is important to ensure that these views coincide with each other on the useri??s retina. Issues related to focusing in binocular or binocular vision are also important in the design of HMD.

Apart from the vision system, registration errors can also occur with other sensors which sense the real world. The microphone system may not be able to decipher a spoken command correctly due to the ambient noise, sensors may malfunction and may record incorrect positioning information and other commands or inputs may be incorrectly recognised due to interference in the wearable communication system. The results of incorrect perceptions of reality in vision systems can be catastrophic if wearable devices are being used to assist with vision enhancement on a battlefield or for delicate tasks such as surgery because the target area that is being viewed will appear to be different from reality.

Parallax and Disparity Problems in HMD

In the personal health monitoring system that has been previously described, registration errors in sensor inputs can lead to false alarms being generated or costly dispatches and emergencies being declared.

Conclusion

It is hoped that the discussion which has been presented above has made the readers more appreciative of the challenges and the potential of wearable computing. With continued advances in technology on a broad front, wearable computer systems are likely to proliferate and become more sophisticated as well as becoming increasingly reliable. Wearable computers are a part of the pervasive computing age and it is very likely that humanity will continue to witness novel applications for these computing systems that hold a promise to change the way in which people live, interact with others and the society at large as well as perform a variety of chores or tasks.

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