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ron lakeIt is hard to go anywhere now and not see individuals or whole crowds of people staring at their “device”. I was walking past an outdoor café the other day and noticed that every single person on the patio was engaged in texting, searching and scanning. No one was talking. It is pretty obvious that wearable devices will very soon replace our “phones” which will become at most a router or local http server. Longer term they will no longer exist. While the exact format (and number) of wearable devices remains to be seen, the direction is pretty clear.

The other development that is less visible but which will become equally pervasive is the Internet of Things, meaning the integration of addressable sensor and actuation devices on the Internet. What began as curiosities a few years ago (anyone remember the robot garden or the electric train?) is now rapidly progressing to sensors and actuators everywhere tied to real systems from door locks on buildings to systems for electrical power transmission.
It is pretty obvious that Wearable Computing devices and the Internet of Things were made for one another. All sorts of applications can be anticipated. What might be some of them?

Unlocking Experience

A trivial but important one will be security. You walk up to a door, and if you meet the entrance criteria, it opens. The device cannot be transferred to another person because it measures some individual characteristic that is unique to you like odours and finger prints, and because it communicates that information to the door lock. Only you can open the door. The wearable device does not store any code as you are the code. This can of course work in place of theatre tickets, airplane tickets, driving your car and any other place where a person has particular access rights.

Of course if you can interact with doors, you can also interact with buildings and rooms. A room can sense your presence much like the lock and present information related to your presence in the room, from the proverbial location-based advertisements, to information about performers during a concert, or information about surgical procedures, risks and checklists during a medical operation. One can imagine this giving rise to various kinds of assistant avatars that “pop-up” in particular locations and situations. In fact wearable computing devices and the Internet of Things will give rise to a situation (with location) as a primary mode of experience.

I have often talked about an application I call “Whispering Google”. It was suggested to me by a remark of Sergei or Larry that they hoped Google would become people’s “conscience”. It works like this. Every time you talk, everything you say is captured and sent as a free text search to Google. The response, hopefully processed in some intelligent fashion, is then whispered into your ear. Of course if it can be whispered into your ear it can also be whispered into that of the other participants to a conversation. No one looks anything up. Everything is being “looked up” all of the time.

Augmenting Reality

Various forms of augmented reality are of course part and parcel of the integration of wearable computing and the Internet of Things. You look at goods in a store, and the product “package” communicates with your “glasses” to show you product specifications, how to use the product, or information about the life (e.g. shipping for fresh fruits) history of the product instances. You walk into a park, and the park tells you about the bird life you can see in the park, perhaps substituting noises for the birds which no longer exist, perhaps providing images of what the birds looked like perched in the trees above you. You ski down a hill, and the hill provides information about how to ski, how you are currently doing or not doing, and the conditions farther down the hill.
A utility worker arrives on a site, say a switching station. They look at the station and see overlays of the internal structure of the switch, access electrical one line diagrams, and then invoke and access results of diagnostic tests. These tests may involve actuation of the switch gear, introduction of stimulus signals etc. and may combine automated and manual operations.

As physical infrastructure evolves we can anticipate more and more sensors and actuation devices to be integral elements. These may regulate the infrastructure, estimate the its current state, and provide input to backend office automation systems, but also support interaction with the infrastructure for onsite personnel. An onsite observer may “see” the strains in a dam or bridge structure, or the flows through a sewer pipe, or the quality of drinking water.

Wearable computing devices and the Internet of Things; the Matrix is not so far away.


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