LONDON Testing is due to continue until mid-2008 on wearable technology that could facilitate a new form of human-computer interaction to significantly improve the productivity of workers and even help save lives. This will be followed by an initial 12-month period where the focus will shift to technology transfer and exploitation.
Researchers on the EU-funded WearIT@work project are exploring a range of applications where wearable technology could facilitate a new form of human-computer interaction. The project is funded under the 'Information society technologies' priority of the EU's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6) to the tune of €23 million.
“If you have a desktop application, then there is always a screen, a keyboard and a computer unit, but if you have a wearable computing solution, then it can be completely different,” explained Dr Michael Lawo, the coordinator of the WearIT@work project from the University of Bremen, Germany. 'You can have speech control in one instance, gesture control in another, though the application should always be the same,' he added.
Along with partners from IT companies, Dr Lawo has developed the Open Wearable Computing Framework, which comprises a central, wearable and hardware-independent computing unit which gives access to an Information and Communication Technology (ICT) environment. Some of the basic components include wireless communication, positioning systems, speech recognition, interface devices, and low-level software platforms or toolboxes allowing these features to seamlessly work together.
“Wearable computing is a completely new working paradigm,” said Dr Lawo. “It is a technology which can support you in a particular environment. Instead of working at the computer, you are directly supported by the technology, a bit like when you are driving a car and you get information from the navigation system supporting you in your primary tasks.”
WearIT@work, the largest civilian wearable computing project in the world, is currently being tested across four different fields. These include aircraft maintenance, emergency response, car production and healthcare. Pilot projects in the areas of bush-fire prevention, e-inclusion and cultural heritage have also been launched recently.
“We address fields where there are no similar applications today. Take the example of an aircraft technician. There is a person doing paperwork who has to find the relevant documentation on a computer. He has to find the aircraft maintenance manual and the parts manual, and produce a printout. These documents are handed over to the technician who then goes to the aircraft to do his work. He then has to write a report on a sheet of paper. And that is the way things work today. What we are doing is giving the worker support and direct access to the ICT system from the workplace. We get rid of the paper,” said Lawo.
WearIT@work already has some 42 partners, including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard and Siemens, but Lawo says the project is always on the lookout for new ventures.