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That human touch: Technology becomes wearable

By Michael Machosky

Someday the latest iPod Nano will be as obsolete as the 8-track -- that's the way technology works. Already, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University's Institute for Complex Engineering Systems are pushing the boundaries of wearable tech, creating computer systems that are literally at your fingertips.

There is a watch that can detect when you're busy, or tell whether you're in trouble. The eWatch senses acceleration, audio, skin temperature, ambient light and tilt, drawing for itself a digital picture of your current state. It communicates with your PDA, computer and cellphone, and can tell whether you're in a meeting, for example, and don't want to hear your cellphone ringing just now. In that case, it sends the call directly to voice mail.

Other wearable computers include goggle-like headsets, which can put complex instructions -- for, say, putting an airplane together -- on a heads-up display right before your eyes.

"He sees exactly where some pins need to be placed and how to wire them, instead of consulting some manual," Smailagic says. "That can reduce aircraft assembly time by half."

As humans and computers get closer together -- and the workspace moves farther away from the office desk -- one major limitation is apparent. It's not computing power, or the physical weight of computers. It's the human attention span.

"Since medieval times, human attention didn't increase much at all, though everything else has been increasing exponentially," Smailagic says. "Disk capacity, memory capacity, everything doubles every 18 months. Humans can absorb a specifc amount of information, and there's a limit, and that doesn't change. This technology can help people focus on their primary tasks."
Thanks to Herbert.


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