Craft & Design Technology Wearables
The Future of Wearable Tech — According to 1992
CD-Rom shoulder pads are in style again in this future year of 2003.
CD-Rom shoulder pads are in style again in this future year of 2003.

The future of computing is wearable, right? With ever-shrinking hardware, attractive DIY microcontrollers designed to play well with textiles, and increasing availability at a low cost it seems like the rise of wearable tech is almost within our grasp. But at the same time the concept of wearable tech isn’t new, people have been chasing it for decades.

This segment on wearable computing is from a 1992 episode of the Australian tech futurism show Beyond 2000 (and replayed in the states on the Discovery Channel for those of you that remember). It starts with a fashion show (like you do) featuring a number of wearable computing devices designed by Hideki Takamasa of Japanese company NEC.

The arm unit has input keys and sensors at the tip, while the body unit has an LCD display.
The arm unit has input keys and sensors at the tip, while the body unit has an LCD display.

Highlights include arm-mounted keypads, cd-rom shoulder pads (back in the spotlight again in this future year of 2003), an off-the-shoulder data terminal, and the “Lapbody,” which is like a laptop that’s attached at the hip so you can use standing up.

The "Lapbody" let's you work on the computer while standing.
The “Lapbody” let’s you work on the computer while standing.

“We’ll choose our hardware not just for its bits, bytes, and RAM, but like designer clothing and jewelry for its look, comfort, and style,” says segment host Tracey Curro.

Anyone else reminded of the clamor over the latest iPhone release?

While the unique hardware was the impetus for the TV segment, it’s really the difficulties the hardware addressed that had universal appeal. It’s easy to look at these artifacts of outdated futurism and laugh. But if you look past the gimmicky industrial design elements, the concepts are eerily familiar to users of modern day smartphones. There are elements of mobile computing in the body-mounted keypads and disk drive shoulder pads. Fast forward to 2015 and the hardware is forgettable, but their vision of the future is completely accessible today.

With an onboard camera, keyboard, telephone, and speech-to-text capabilities, she's basically wearing a smartphone.
With an onboard camera, touch-sensitive keyboard, telephone, and speech-to-text capabilities, she’s basically wearing a smartphone.

“For the 21st century executive, there’ll be no reason to stop work just because you’ve left the office. With the ‘Porter Office’ you have 3 options: you can type it on the touch-sensitive keyboard; you can hand-write it on the electronic notebook; or, if you need to be hands free, dictate it using speak recognition directly onto the page.”

From there, they say, you could use a cell network to send it off to a coworker. Sounds pretty familiar, right? I can do all of that and more with the iPhone sitting in my pocket.

So if the wearable future of 1992 is already here, where do we go next? Is it about increasingly better sensors and data capture? Is it about expression with animated LED patterns and Tron-style futuristic fashion? Let us know in the comments what you think wearable tech should be in 20 years.

8 thoughts on “The Future of Wearable Tech — According to 1992

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  2. Oh Cd-rom storage, how quaint you were. Who knew we’d be able to store terabtyes of information on solid state memory. Why are they still referring to “faxing letters” even in 1993? I was at least on AOL at that point sending emails, surely they knew email was eventually going to replace faxes?

    1. The mainstream culture didn’t really start considering e-mail a primary form of communication until 1995 or thereabouts. Even though AOL was incredibly popular, most people hadn’t yet realized the implications of how everyone being online was going to change communications. They were writing to their audience.

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  4. I’m thinking the next thing is holo-projection interfaces, like in Tenchi Munyo or the Iron Man movies.

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