Real-Time Wearable Technology

Wearable technology has been developing very rapidly in recent years, but the need for resources that provide and two ways real-time information and lack of some technology building blocks still presents challenges

Real-Time Wearable Technology

Any article, lecture or conversation on the subject of wearable technology begins with a mention of Steve Mann’s name. Professor Steve Mann – as he is known by his academic credentials – of the University of Toronto has been involved in this field for more than 35 years. This gentleman, who invented dozens of patents (some of which are being realized commercially by the world’s leading technological corporations), had been carrying an antenna long before the era of mobile phone communication, wore a computer screen and augmented reality spectacles decades before Google, used a smart watch for video conferences as far back as 1998 and had a desire to share his personal-social view with the world long before Facebook.

We have progressed significantly with regard to technological capabilities. For years, pilots use thermal or light-intensifying goggles connected to their helmets, which project flight data into their field of view. Today’s special operations warfighters carry on their arms a display monitor through which they can share operational and intelligence information in real time; a locating device that transmits their location and displays it to the rear area, and naturally: a helmet-mounted camera that documents every action, and miniature radio transceivers connected to earphones that enable the user to communicate under any environmental conditions.

The common denominator of all of these technological systems is the need for connectivity to enable reporting and issuance of orders in real time, viewing/monitoring and documenting by the command elements or the team members, position indication for mutual protection purposes and various other functions.

The systems described above are relatively restricted in their capabilities and vulnerable to various constraints and threats. An infantry warfighter constitutes a limited platform in terms of carrying capacity, ability to supply sufficient energy for the systems and ensuring communication reliability and availability under adverse environmental conditions.

Law enforcement agencies in Israel and around the world use electronic bracelets to monitor the whereabouts of supervised offenders or inmates inside and outside prisons and correctional facilities. Such applications involve complex ethical issues and legal limitations, but enable monitoring and supervision as well as the study of criminal behavioral patterns possessing intelligence value that is priceless to the law enforcement agencies. Connecting the monitoring system to analytical real-time data processing systems enables users to predict violent behavior and malicious intentions and prevent criminal activities. At the Israel Prison Service (IPS), we implemented an electronic bracelet technology inside the prisons as well as for electronically monitoring prisoners outside the prisons.

In the health care field, electronic bracelets are used extensively for monitoring medical parameters, including those of infants. Bracelets with locating capabilities enable monitoring and supervision of at-risk children and mentally impaired or frail adults. The Israel Prison Service conducted an experiment, which was concluded with partial success, of diagnosing suicidal intentions or actual suicide attempts during the first few moments, when the prisoner can still be saved, based on electronic bracelet monitoring a sudden increase or decrease in the prisoner’s pulse rate.

Wearable photography technology, in addition to being an excellent aid for documentation and commercial, security and personal espionage, was used in an interesting and unusual way during the pro-Palestinian “fly-in” propaganda campaign in 2011. Female British activists who arrived in Israel in the context of this propaganda effort managed to outwit the Israel Prison Service, documented their stay at the Giveon prison and uploaded their footage to Youtube. Although we had been aware of the propaganda potential, we failed to spot the cameras used by seemingly respectable 60 year-old ladies. Either way, wearable discrete cameras are very common today. They are hidden inside watches, buttons, pens and spectacles and come in every size, shape and quality.

The situation has not changed over the last few decades and in fact, there are three main item categories that are relevant to this field of activity: spectacles, bracelets and watches. Over the last few years, smartphones have also become relevant as they are simply there: always portable, readily available with their situational awareness, possessing excellent technological capabilities packaged in a lightweight and highly efficient interface.

The characteristics of wearable computing have evolved over the years with regard to technology, but not in essence.

Smart watches are used primarily to display information. In most cases, the smart watches serve as an extension of the mobile phone kept in a handbag or backpack. For example, a smart watch may receive and issue alerts of incoming text and E-Mail messages, and in some cases it may even be used to receive incoming cellular phone calls.

Wearable electronic bracelets enable physiological monitoring of an extensive range of parameters, as well as social information sharing.

Virtual reality spectacles offer an enhanced gaming, learning and analysis experience. Augmented reality spectacles enable the user to perform complex analysis/maintenance tasks while automatically confirming that the tasks have actually been performed according to the definitions of a preprogrammed protocol. “Standard” information spectacles (for example Google Glass) were intended to assist and facilitate day-to-day activities by displaying information and data that are relevant to the user wearing them in real time. For example: weather, data, location and orientation, messages, people identification and so forth.

Some of the other initiatives in this field include a university research project launched in 2009 in Europe which attempts to provide wearable computing to elderly people, to facilitate their day-to-day activities; Google announced a project involving smart contact lenses; a Dutch entrepreneur created a garment connected to the Internet, which serves as a WiFi center, a music player and so forth, based on copper wires woven into the fabric, with the energy and transmission resources hidden in the pockets.

A review of the extensive information available on the subject indicates that the wearable computing gear currently available consists primarily of elements carried on one’s person or hand held. Beyond that, the term wearable computing should be changed to wearable technologies.

A list of primary requirements may be presented with regard to the input and output aspects of garments that incorporate wearable technologies. Reception: information, instructions (navigation, operating), spatial situational awareness, acknowledgments. Transmission: peripheral documentation, situational awareness, physiological state. The requirements to be met by the garment and fabric it is made of include resistance to environmental conditions and standards pertaining to heat, cold, water, dust, cleaning and electromagnetic energy emissions.

Wearable computing was intended to be constantly connected. The new technologies are BT, WiFi and NFC. It should be able to operate continuously (Always On) while attached to the user’s body; it should be capable of operating in the background and independently aware of the location and situation through a range of sensors, have low power consumption and offer effective operation through the simplest possible user interface.

For this purpose, various supporting technologies “building blocks” that have evolved in recent years will have to be utilized and implemented, so as to be included in the garment itself or in the peripheral systems that would assist the user: wideband communication, on-line/off-line communication, power supply and recharging, 3D information displaying including projection on the garment itself (for example on the sleeve or back). Additional technologies will include the ability to generate and receive multiple-sensor video in visible light, light intensification, thermal and SWIR imaging, the ability to store information so that it may be used in the event of a communication failure in a manner that is custom-tailored to the user’s requirements and various other technological capabilities.

Content analytics and cyber protection shpuld be implemented, allowing prediction based on data created, saving and deleting of data, excluding from the network when required.

Will Investment yield Profits in such complex demanding area?

Some people argue that the smartphone is our wearable computer – everything else are just accessories, and there is not much difference between an electronic bracelet and a Bluetooth earphone. Skepticism aside, wearable computing is generating a lot of interest. Research and development firms are elevating their projections and venture capital funds are pouring money into various projects.

Some 45 Israeli companies are involved in the various activities associated with wearable computing: augmented reality (a technology that combines virtual elements with a real environment in real time and interactively), advertising platforms, medical technologies, commerce technologies and cyber protection technologies. Nevertheless, despite the massive investments in this field, the challenges of incorporating wearable technologies in clothing for a variety of applications, tasks and users, are still ahead of us.

Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Israel (Rom) Russo served as Head of the Technologies Administration in the Israel Prison Service. Now entrepreneur and implementer of advanced technologies.

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