Lots of smart wearable devices are starting to appear in corporate hype now. I am happy to a point, we were talking about most of them 20 years ago so it’s about time! However, it is a futurologist’s curse that you can never truly enjoy today because you know how good it might be tomorrow so it never quite measures up.
The pictures of the new wristbands look very nice, but they are too little, too late. Why not the whole forearm? Why a wristband and not active skin? But the big question is: why make them physical at all?
I invented the active contact lens in 1991, using one LED per pixel, rather like the Google proposal suggests – somehow they managed to patent the active contact lens in 2005, at least 12 years after the idea was first published outside BT. So much for the US Patent Office doing due diligence! I greatly improved on my initial design in 1995 when the micro-mirror was invented by Texas Instruments, immediately allowing full retina resolution displays with just 3 lasers and a micro-mirror. Google engineers seem oblivious to that invention and persist on doing it the crap way with a far less scalable one-LED-per-pixel approach that will struggle to do any more than basic graphics.
Thankfully though, Google is just one IT company and there are many. I am not a gambling man but I would be greatly surprised if there isn’t some company out there right now working on doing a high resolution 3D augmented reality head up display properly. It doesn’t even have to be in a contact lens, a lightweight visor is fine. But we should expect at least to have both eyes used, for it to be a full semi-transparent overlay on the entire field of view rather than just a small region of the display here and there. The 3D bit is trivial if both eyes are available.
Once we have it, and it really can’t be very long, you won’t need a laptop or a pad or a smartphone or a wristband or a TV set. They can all be produced virtually on demand. Any kind of gadget, any kind of interface you like, anywhere, and size, any resolution. You can make any interface you’ve ever seen on any sci-fi movie, with no extra cost apart from any apps you have to buy. Apple are struggling with power supply for their wristband. If you have a head up display, the power requirement is the few microwatts to put the image on your retina. Everything else can be done in the cloud or on a portable gadget without the battery-size problems, perhaps worn on your belt.
The Fin interface that is doing the media rounds today is quite nice too. You wear it on your thumb and it uses image recognition to determine the gestures you make on your hand, and holds your ID and stuff and the battery lasts ages. You don’t really need it – you could do it all by image recognition from your contact lenses or a body-relative positioning system – but it looks nice and solves a multitude of problems easily and locally. So I won’t begrudge it a place.
That really sums up the difference. The wrist straps are mainly a display, which you really don’t need and offers no advantage over a head up display, while the Fin thing is an interfacing device, which still works outside your field of view, so has some merit.
Active skin will also have merit, its primary purpose being to interface between IT and the body. Anything you can do with the wrist strap or Fin can also be easily implemented with active skin, but active skin can also detect your health state, control your medication, detect, record, relay and replay emotions and sensations, act as smart makeup or a display or a video tattoo, as well as all the interface/security/ID stuff and can do some really cool stuff when linked to your or other people’s active contact lenses. With the right permissions, you could feel what someone else is feeling just by looking at their hand.
So, I’m bored with this wrist strap stuff. It may not even be on the shelves yet, but conceptually, it’s ancient history and I wish the future would hurry up and arrive.