Smart Tech The Next Generation
The Techs Behind Wearable Tech
The future of Google Glass may still be up in the air, but the technology behind it is here to stay. Wearable technology is the product of inter-disciplinary scientific and technological research and development. While the exact details vary from one device to another, here are some of the technologies being used:
All these devices use Wi-Fi and/or Bluetooth transmitters. The Wi-Fi would be used for standalone connections to the internet or a LAN, while the Bluetooth would link to a phone or tablet running Android or iOS, allowing access to a greater range of data and applications as well as a cellular connection. Glass can also act as a Bluetooth headset for supported phones.
To meet the weight, power and heat constraints of mobile devices, manufacturers are selecting processors based on the ARM architecture – a type of Reduced Instruction Set Computing (RISC) processor that uses far fewer transistors than an Intel x86 or x64 architecture. Pebble watches use an ARM Cortex-M3 processor operating at up to 80MHz For those wanting to know more, Science Direct gives access to thousands of book chapters and articles on ARM processors such as The Definitive Guide to Guide to ARM® CORTEX®-M3 and CORTEX®-M4 Processor (Third Edition) by Joseph Yu that was published earlier this year or Energy efficiency vs. performance of the numerical solution of PDEs: An application study on a low-power ARM-based cluster from the Journal of Computational Physics.
Google Glass natively runs on a version of the Android Kit Kat operating system as of Feb 2014 and works with Android cellphones. Pebble has its own PebbleOS that can run iOS or Android apps. However, as discussed in the article Analyzing competitive and collaborative differences among mobile ecosystems using abstracted strategy networks in the May 2014 issue of Telematics and Informatics,
Apple’s iOS strategy is the most competition oriented and least collaborative . Google’s approach, on the other hand,
is coopetition oriented showing strong competition and collaboration . So, while Google and Apple are still fighting it out in federal court over patents, Glass has supported iOS since last December.
In addition to Google’s own software for Glass, developers can use the Glass Developers Kit (GDK) and the Mirror API to build applications and services known as Glassware. There are dozens of personal apps such as games, stocks, maps and news, as well as business-oriented ones. For example BAE Systems is releasing a geospatial intelligence moblie app called GXP Xplorer Snap for hands-free information gathering by reconnaissanceteams and first responders. Epson has its own developer program and programmers can use the standard Android SDK or get a Moverio SDK from Wikitude.
There is no room for spinning disks in rings or eyeglass frames, therefore solid state storage is a necessity. Due to the limited space, many also rely on the storage in a linked smartphone or a cloud service provider. Those interested in the latest data on the reliability of flash storage can read Modeling the aging process of flash storage by leveraging semantic I/O from the March 2014 issue of Future Generation Computer Systems. To keep up with developments in flash storage, RAM and CPUs, follow journals such as Microprocessors and Microsystems, Integration, the VLSI Journal, Microelectronics Journal or any of the other microelectronics journals available through ScienceDirect.
Each device has its own set of tactile, motion and/or visual sensors. Glass incorporates several sensors including an inward-facing LiteON LTR-506ALS ambient light and proximity sensor and an InvenSense MPU-9150 that combines a 3-axis gyroscope, 3-axis accelerometer and a 3-axis digital compass. Some teardowns did not find a GPS receiver so the user would have to get that data from a linked smartphone, however one did find a CSR SiRSstarIV GSD4e GPS module. For a discussion of how a mobile device translates the accelerometer readings into an understanding of the user’s motion, see A Comparison Study of Classifier Algorithms for Mobile-phone's Accelerometer Based Activity Recognition from Procedia Engineering, Volume 41. The user controls the device though a Synaptics touchpad, voice commands and an eye blink sensor.
The eyewear mobile device come with one or more still and/or video cameras. There is no flash and the camera cannot be aimed without tilting the head. One problem with mobile camera systems is the autofocus function can consume a lot of power. For a more energy efficient proposal, see Robust passive autofocus system for mobile phone camera applications from the May 2014 issue of Computers & Electrical Engineering.
The heads-up display system used in Glass consists of a Liquid Crystal on Silicon (LCoS) micro projector. An LCoS projector, such as the HiMax HX7309 uses three color LEDs (red, green, blue) sequentially bounce light off the .22" diagonal LCoS chip with the light then going to a crystal which displays the image to the user. Per Google, the image quality is equivalent to viewing a 25" high-definition display from a distance of 8 feet.
Handheld communication devices like tricorders and smartphones may have been good enough for Smart Tech: The Original Series, but now no one wants to have to reach all the way into their pocket to answer a phone call or get driving directions. They want technology that integrates with their bodies; they may not be willing to go full-Borg, but at least something like the eyewear Geordi La Forge wore would be nice.
We are still a long ways from developing warp drive, but there is plenty of wearable technology out there. Google Glass ("Glass") may be the most famous (that is until Apple unveiled its new Watch in September 2014), but you can buy the Epson Moverio BT-200 augmented reality glasses for half the price. There are also the Metapro SpaceGlasses, the Innovega iOptik, which puts the displays inside contact lenses, and the Atheer One, though it's not shipping until next summer. If you prefer to wear your tech on something other than your head, you can buy the Pebble smartwatch or put a Ringly on your finger.
More Than a Toy
Wearable technology is more than just a new toy – it can fundamentally transform the way work is done. Dr. Oliver J. Muensterer, an Associate Professor of Surgery at Albert Einstein College of Medicine who practices at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx, uses Glass to provide hands-free photo and video documentation when performing a procedure.
"In surgery, it is quite difficult to document findings with a camera, since it usually requires interrupting the workflow, and having someone lean over the patient with a camera," he explains. "With Glass, the surgeon can instantaneously take pictures or video footage of the operative site without stepping aside, or the danger of compromised sterility."
Dr. Muensterer says that Glass also allows the surgeon to give the family an update on the surgery without leaving the operating room; to look up information such as coding, billing and medical terms; and to view laboratory and x-ray findings. He has used two generations of the hardware so far and says the current version is an improvement, but he would like to see a longer battery life as well as tilt, zoom and flash functions for the camera.
"In principle, this is powerful technology that definitively has a role in the future of medicine and surgery," he insists. "However, we still need to fine-tune the device, and work out drawbacks."
Dr. Muensterer wrote up his initial experiences in using Glass in pediatric surgery for the International Journal of Surgery and is currently working on a study evaluating the heads-up display for the diagnosis of x-ray findings.