A Brief History of Wearable Computers

Wearable computers, functional devices that are worn on the body, are becoming increasingly common. We look at 10 of the weirdest and coolest wearable-computing devices, from futuristic visors to shoe inserts that track your running.

Ten Cool Wearable Computers

Wearable-computing technology has made amazing progress over the past 30 years, shrinking from backpack-size computers to devices small enough to fit over your ear. We’ve rounded up ten of the best and worst designs from wearable-computing history.

Steve Mann's Rig (1980)

In the early days of wearable computing, the results were effective--but they weren't always pretty. This early setup by Steve Mann may not be much to look at, but give the guy a break: He was making a wearable computer system with a video camera in 1980!

The Trekker (1998)

The Trekker is a slight improvement sizewise over the pioneering work of Steve Mann and others, but it's still not exactly the height of fashion. The main advantage the Trekker had over systems like Mann's is that it was available to the public. That's right: For a mere $10,000, this look could have been yours back in the late '90s.

AiRScouter (2010)

The AiRScouter is a heads-up display capable of projecting the equivalent of a 14-inch screen that appears to be about a meter in front of you. Unlike some heads-up displays that merely show an image on bulky glasses, the AiRScouter projects images fed to it by any computer directly onto your retina--which is as futuristic as it is terrifying. If you want to have one of your own, you'll have to wait a bit longer. The device is still just a prototype.

Zypad (2010)

If you're looking for a wearable computer that lives up to the name, try a Zypad model from a company called the Eurotech Group. The Zypad is a powerful touchscreen computer that you can strap around your wrist. At least, in theory you can: Eurotech doesn't list the Zypad's price, so it's probably a bit out of the consumer price range.

Fitbit (2009)

At $99, the Fitbit is a wearable-computing gadget that most consumers can afford. The tiny device helps to monitor your health by measuring how far you walk during the day and how well you sleep at night.

Nike+ (2006)

The Nike+ is by far the most popular wearable-computing device currently for sale. At $20, it's probably the cheapest, too. Just slip the Nike+ sensor into a compatible running shoe, and start tracking your progress on the Nike+ website.

Looxie (2008)

The Looxcie is a $200 wearable video camera meant to go anywhere you go. The system fits over your ear like a Bluetooth headset, and can record up to 10 hours of footage every day. In the evening, you can return home and download the video to create a daily video log of your activities.

Up (2011)

Jawbone's Up is a health-tracking bracelet that will help you watch what you eat, how you sleep, and how much exercise you get. Although Jawbone hasn't set an exact release date or a price point for this elegant device yet, it does say that the Up will be available to the public by the end of 2011.

SixthSense (2009)

Developed by a team at the MIT Media Lab, the SixthSense is a next-generation wearable system that includes a built-in projector. The system hangs comfortably around your neck and lets you project a screen on any flat surface. You can then interact with pictures, maps, and more, using a system of gestures developed by the team.

WIMM Android Watch (2011)

Announced at the start of August, this cool little watch is just one of many Android-based wearable devices from WIMM Labs. The company doesn't have a price or a release date yet, but it is already showing the hardware off to a few developers to generate interest in getting software designed for the watch's 1-by-1-inch screen.

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