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The Evolution of Wearable Technology

Wearable technology is one of the most prolific trends in the tech industry today.

From smart watches, activity trackers (like the Fitbit), Bluetooth-connected hardware (like the Tile), medical devices (like pacemakers), to Google Glass and Oculus Rift, big names are getting involved in the once-niche technology.

The first wearable computer may have been introduced as early as the 1600s, when the abacus necklace was adorned. Other early wearable “computers” include a sixteenth-century abacus ring, the first wristwatch worn by the Queen of Naples in 1810, and the first cheating devices worn in shoes at roulette tables in the 1960s.

In 1961, mathematicians Edward O. Thorp and Claude Shannon built computerized timing devices to help them cheat at the gambling game roulette — various versions of this apparatus were built in the 1960s and 1970s. Others went on to perfect the device and built similar wearables through the 1970s, all for the purpose at cheating in casinos.

The calculator watch, first released in 1975 under the Pulsar brand, became a widely popular tool for geeks everywhere. These early “smart” watches were popular through the mid-1980s. (Read more here.)

In the 1980s, wearable computers started becoming more general-purpose and better fit the modern definition of “computer” by incorporating task-specific hardware to more general-purpose devices. Steve Mann built a backpack-mounted multimedia computer in 1981. Mann remained active in the wearable computer field through the 80’s and created the first wearable wireless webcam in 1994, which became the first example of “lifelogging.” As the world moved into the 21st century, wearable technology started to take off.

Popular media representations have shown us what to expect from a wearable device as far back as 1984 with the movie The Terminator. Scenes from the titular android’s point of view showed computer displays overlaid over real world imagery – nearly three decades before Google Glass would do the same thing.  (Read more here.)

Bluetooth headsets, which offered one of the first reliable and convenient machine-to-machine (M2M) communication standards, were first shipped in the year 2000. The collaboration of fitness and technology resulted when Nike and Apple allowed users to track their movements with their iPods – and Nike even developed clothing specifically designed to accommodate carrying an iPod around in special pockets. (Read more here.)

Wearable computing really took off in 2011 when Google developed the first prototype of what it now calls its Google Glass Project.  Following the advent of Google Glass in 2013, numerous companies made a run into the smartwatch market, including Apple with its iWatch, Samsung with its Galaxy Gear, and Sony with its SmartWatch.

Wearable technology has now evolved into numerous types of devices, including watches, glasses, headbands, wigs, rings, etc. And, such devices are being implemented for numerous applications, including personal and business computing, practical everyday tasks, fitness tracking, healthcare monitoring, etc. (Read more here.)

Here is a great infographic from www.mashable.com depicting the brief history of wearable technology.  (See more here).

Wearable technology graphic

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